Opinion: Drag is not “humor and harassment”


The Prairie News is a student-led free press. All opinions expressed herein are solely those of the writer and not those of WTAMU.

On March 20, 2023 West Texas A&M University President, Walter Wendler sent out a university email titled, “A Harmless Drag Show? No Such Thing.” The email goes on to state that a university club event, a drag show benefiting The Trevor Project, had been canceled. Wendler justified the show’s cancellation based on his presumption that drag is debasing, demoralizing and that drag shows objectify women.

Drag is not an impediment on the path to equality, however, benevolent sexism is. Benevolent sexism is a form of sexism that is instigated through paternal and traditional beliefs that perceive women as beautiful and pure, yet delicate and precious, and therefore in need of protection provided by men. It is a subtler form of sexism and can be expressed in a seemingly positive way, but it is no less insidious and harmful.

Benevolent sexism has been shown to be related to women deprioritizing educational goals and undermining their perceived competency and performance. In fact, benevolent sexism has been shown to have a worse effect on women’s cognitive performance than overt blatant sexism. Sexism, benevolent or not, is the true deterrent towards progress in women’s rights, not a drag show.

Art has always had a space when it comes to breaking down social and political barriers on a path toward social justice. Art has many functions, which include informing larger society about social issues, to encourage social change, to express or reject values and ideas, to tell the history of a movement and much more. Drag is an art form and a form of resistance to harmful social norms. Drag enables us to look at society through a lens of humor to the more complex and serious social issues. In this way, ideas become more accessible and change is more likely to happen. Drag is not “humor and harassment,” as Wendler states, but rather a form of political parody and satirical art.

Drag in particular is very important to the history and continued fight for equality for LGTBQIA+ individuals. The Stonewall Riots, which were led by drag queens and transgender women, are often seen as the harbinger of the gay rights movement. Our fight continues today, individual’s freedom, body autonomy and access to care are on the docket of many state senators. It is more important than ever to not only talk about inclusion and respect but to live it.

The drag show that was taking place at WT was to benefit The Trevor Project. If you are unfamiliar with The Trevor Project, it is an organization that provides mental help and support to LGBTQIA youth to reduce suicide. Death by suicide is not only a growing concern, it is also the second leading cause of death for people aged 18-24. Individuals in the LGBTQIA community are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers.

There are many reasons why individuals choose to die by suicide. The leading theory of suicidality suggests that people who die by suicide often feel a thwarted sense of belonging, feel like they are a burden and an increased capability that is brought on by painful and provocative experiences.

Wendler’s statements do not create a campus environment of care and inclusion; it breeds divisiveness, injustice, and increased risk of harm to the students he was charged to care for.

Finally, Section 1.3 of Rule 08.99.99.W1 WTAMU Expressive Activity on Campus states, “The university may not take action against a student organization or deny the organization any benefit generally available to other student organizations at the university on the basis of a political, religious, philosophical, ideological, or academic viewpoint expressed by the organization or any expressive activities of the organization.” There is no reason for this university club event, which is benefiting a necessary organization, should be canceled.

Students, staff, and faculty who wish to make their voices heard can file a complaint against Walter Wendler at www.wtamu.edu/complaint . Individuals can also sign a petition to bring back the drag show.

If you or someone you know has had thoughts of suicide, help is available. Students have counseling sessions included in their tuition. Please go to the Student Counseling Center in CC116 or call 806-651-2340 to make an appointment.