A student group at a university in the Texas Panhandle said in a federal lawsuit filed Friday that the school's president violated their constitutional right to free speech when he canceled their planned drag show.
Walter Wendler, president of West Texas A&M University in Canyon, located just south of Amarillo, said this week in a letter and column laden with religious references that he believed drag shows discriminated against women and were "derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny, no matter the stated intent.”
In recent months, drag shows across the country have been targeted by right-wing activists and politicians, with Republican lawmakers in several states, including Texas, proposing restrictions on the shows. And events like drag story hours, where drag queens read books to children, have drawn protesters.
Spectrum WT — a group for LGBT+ students and allies — had organized the March 31 drag show to raise money for the Trevor Project, a group that works to prevent suicide among LGBTQ young people. Spectrum WT has said that drag isn’t designed to be offensive, adding that it’s a celebration of many things, including “queerness, gender, acceptance, love and especially femininity.”
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Amarillo calls the cancellation “textbook viewpoint discrimination,” saying that Wendler “cannot bar Spectrum WT and its members from exercising their First Amendment rights merely because he believes his personal opinions override the Constitution.”
In Wendler's writing explaining his decision, he said he “will not appear to condone the diminishment of any group at the expense of impertinent gestures toward another group for any reason, even when the law of the land appears to require it.”
The cancellation has spurred protests on campus, with students waving gay pride flags and holding signs that included the saying “Women for Drag." But other students have said they agreed with the Wendler's stance.
Spectrum WT and its two student leaders who filed the lawsuit are represented by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, or FIRE, a national civil liberties group. The lawsuit was filed against officials with the university, including Wendler, in addition to officials with the Texas A&M University System.
Spokespeople for both the university and the university system had no comment Friday.