Since 1919

The Prairie News

Since 1919

The Prairie News

Since 1919

The Prairie News

WT President and Spectrum WT battle over free speech

Michael Kidd
A timeline of events detailing the ongoing legal case between President Walter Wendler and Spectrum WT concerning Wendler’s cancellation of a drag show.

On March 18 West Texas A&M University President Walter V. Wendler canceled an on-campus drag show for the second time in two years. This decision was the latest action in an ongoing legal dispute between Wendler and WT’s LGBTQIA+ student organization, Spectrum WT.

The case, Spectrum WT v. Walter Wendler, concerns whether Wendler’s decision to cancel these performances violates Spectrum WT’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech. According to Dr. Brandon Bang, assistant professor and director of the criminal justice program, past decisions suggest that Wendler’s actions constitute a free-speech violation.

“Now, based upon clear precedent, from the Supreme Court and Circuit Court of Appeals, what Walter Wendler did is an egregious violation of the First Amendment,” Bang said. “And in fact, if you go back and you look at Walter Wendler’s email that he sent out a year ago, he even admits to the fact that it’s likely unconstitutional, and he’s definitely correct.”

The admission Bang referenced comes from Wendler’s original statement from March 20, 2023, explaining his decision to cancel Spectrum WT’s first drag show. In the statement, Wendler compared drag to “blackface” and claimed drag was disrespectful to women.

“As a university president, I would not support ‘blackface’ performances on our campus, even if told the performance is a form of free speech,” Wendler said in the email he sent to WT students, staff and faculty last year. “As a performance exaggerating aspects of womanhood (sexuality, femininity, gender), drag shows stereotype women in cartoon-like extremes for the amusement of others and discriminate against womanhood.”

Spectrum’s president and civil engineering student Bear Bright helped organize the first drag show and the second one. As a drag performer and member of the LGBTQIA+ community, Bright rejects the “blackface” comparison.

“Blackface is a racially based mocking and caricature of an entire race,” Bright said, “While drag is gender expression and celebration of gender and breaking gender norms.”

According to Bright, drag is both inseparable from the history of LGBTQIA+ rights, and a widely recognized art form.

“It started with drag queens and trans people starting the Stonewall riots that led to the LGBTQ+ rights movement,” Bright said, “As well as just being an accepted form of entertainment and expression, kind of like theater is.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) currently represents Spectrum WT as the case heads to the Fifth Circuit Court. The court refused to grant an injunction preventing Wendler from canceling the event, but they won’t hear arguments about the case until sometime in April. FIRE released the following statement about Wendler’s decision.

“Our clients remain disappointed by Wendler’s admitted disregard for the First Amendment. But this fight is not over. The Fifth Circuit will hear oral arguments in the case next month. And FIRE will be there advocating for our clients and for the First Amendment freedoms of every public university student — no matter how they express themself.”

According to Bright, Spectrum WT is working to find a new venue to host this year’s drag show. There are no confirmed dates for the performance, but Bright and the other organization officers are projecting the first week of April. Spectrum plans to donate all profits generated by the show to the Trevor Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to suicide prevention for LGBTQIA+ youths.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Michael Kidd, Multimedia Reporter

Comments (0)

All The PRAIRIE Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *