Students Sue West Texas A&M President Who Canceled Drag Show
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- WTAMU President Walter Wendler canceled a student-organized drag event for charity in an email that cited his personal beliefs about the performances.
- Students objected to the cancellation, saying it violated their First Amendment rights.
- The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression filed a lawsuit against Wendler on behalf of the students, saying Wendler is "openly defying the Constitution."
Students at West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) are suing the institution's president, alleging that his cancellation of a student-organized drag show on campus violated their First Amendment rights.
The March 31 drag show was organized by students at the Canyon, Texas, university to support the Trevor Project, an advocacy group focused on suicide prevention efforts of LGBTQ+ youths.
WTAMU President Walter V. Wendler canceled the event March 21 via a 740-word email to students and faculty in which he called drag performances "derisive, divisive and demoralizing."
Spectrum WT, WTAMU's student-run LGBTQ+ organization, the group's president Barrett Bright, and the group's vice president Lauren Stovall filed the lawsuit to stop Wendler from censoring the organization, to make sure the drag show can continue, and to get damages for the violation of their First Amendment rights, according to court documents.
Court documents also show that WTAMU Vice President for Student Affairs Christopher Thomas, Chancellor of the Texas A&M University System John Sharp, and the members of the Board of Regents of the Texas A&M University System are listed as defendants in the lawsuit.
In a statement to BestColleges, Buffs for Drag, a student-organized group formed in opposition to Wendler's actions, said that the student and community turnout for protests against the cancellation of the drag show has been "way beyond our expectations" and that they are prepared to keep fighting until they achieve their goals.
"While the protests may change form and fashion, we will be standing united in rebelling against Walter Wendler's hateful rhetoric and actions until we come to a resolution that better represents WTAMU students and our values," the group said.
The students are being represented by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a First Amendment advocacy group that sent a letter to Wendler after he canceled the drag show outlining how such performances are protected expression under the U.S. Constitution.
"College presidents can't silence students simply because they disagree with their expression," FIRE attorney Adam Steinbaugh said in a statement. "The First Amendment protects student speech, whether it's gathering on campus to study the Bible, hosting an acid-tongued political speaker, or putting on a charity drag show."
The lawsuit also accuses Wendler of violating a Texas law that states that a university "may not take action against a student organization … on the basis of a political, religious, philosophical, ideological, or academic viewpoint expressed by the organization or of any expressive activities of the organization."