President Walter Wendler of West Texas A&M recently sent an email to the school's staff and students that said in part, "Drag shows do not preserve a single thread of human dignity and show stereotypes of women in cartoon-like extremes." He called them derisive, divisive, and demoralizing misogyny and compared them to blackface.
Wendler states in his email that that the show's plan to raise money for the Trevor Project is "a noble cause," but he suggests that students "skip the show and send the dough" to the pro-LGBTQ+ organization instead.
His letter also argues that the students' planned drag show would violate the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's purpose, since he considers West Texas A&M's campus a workplace.
Attorney Brad Dacus of Pacific Justice Institute, which is not involved in the case, says Wendler makes some good points.
"The president of this university was well justified in concluding that drag queen events are misogynistic, are demeaning of women, and there's a reason that feminist groups across the country are starting to push back," Dacus responds, adding that universities do have "an interest and a right to maintain decency standards at their university."
FIRE, which describes itself as "the nation's leading defender of fundamental rights on college campuses," is suing the college and its president. The organization argues that drag is protected free speech expression. And though Dacus says Supreme Court precedent likely holds a similar view, he sees a difference.
"It is very demoralizing; it is dehumanizing of women," he submits. "The job of a president of the university is to maintain a sense of decency, where students can express themselves without having to feel demeaned and dehumanized."
With that in mind, Dacus says it is possible that "the court may well distinguish expressions of thought and ideas from actions that cross the bounds of decency."
In 2022, FIRE changed its name from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression and announced an expansion initiative into off-campus free speech advocacy and legal defense.
On its website, FIRE says it recognizes that colleges and universities play a vital role in preserving free thought within a free society. "To this end, we place a special emphasis on defending the individual rights of students and faculty members on our nation's campuses, including freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience," the mission statement reads.