LGBTQ Equality

Supreme Court declines to intervene in controversy over drag show at a Texas university, but the legal case continues

  Rob Boston

Students at West Texas A&M University wanted to hold a drag show on campus last year to support the Trevor Project, an organization that provides suicide-prevention services to LGBTQ+ young people. But the school’s president, Walter Wendler, was offended by the idea and ordered it canceled. The event was moved off campus.

Wendler cited his religious beliefs and called drag shows misogynistic and demeaning to women. In a column, he commented, “I believe every human being is created in the image of God and, therefore, a person of dignity. Being created in God’s image is the basis of Natural Law. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, prisoners of the culture of their time as are we, declared the Creator’s origin as the foundational fiber in the fabric of our nation as they breathed life into it.”

Taking the fight to court

Students challenged Wendler’s diktat in court, and last week the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will not issue an emergency order that would allow the show to occur on campus this year.

This doesn’t mean the legal fight is over. U.S. District Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk ruled against the students last year, but his decision is being appealed. (Kacsmaryk’s name might sound familiar. He’s infamous for his past work for Christian Nationalist organizations and handing down extreme rulings, including one overturning the Food and Drug Administration’s decades-old approval of mifepristone, a drug used in medication abortions. That ruling is currently on appeal before the Supreme Court, which will hear the case later this month.)

Kacsmaryk asserted that drag shows may not be “inherently expressive” and thus not entitled to protection under the First Amendment. As with many of Kacsmaryk’s legal theories, this one appears to be something he just made up, reflecting not what the law actually says but what he wishes it said.

Case on appeal

His ruling is on appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but that court scheduled oral arguments for the week of April 29, which is after the planned date for the drag show. That’s what led the students to file for the emergency order at SCOTUS. Although the high court declined to intervene – and it should be noted that it’s not unusual for the court to turn down such requests in situations like this one – the case will go on.

That’s a good thing because the rights of these students were violated, and they deserve to win.

P.S. During the controversy last year, AU Vice President for Strategic Communications Andrew L. Seidel was invited to speak at West Texas A&M by the local chapter of the Secular Student Alliance. As a form of protest and to show solidarity with the students, he delivered part of this talk in drag.


Photo: AU’s Andrew Seidel speaks in drag at West Texas A&M University. Screenshot from Secular Student Alliance YouTube.

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