Supreme Court Denies Request From West Texas A&M Students Attempting to Host Drag Show

The students asked the court to overturn the university's ban on drag shows before their planned performance on March 22.
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Published on March 20, 2024
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  • Last March, West Texas A&M University President Walter Wendler canceled a student-organized charity drag show, citing his personal views about the performances.
  • Students said the cancellation violated their First Amendment rights.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court denied an emergency petition from students hoping to host their annual drag show on campus.
  • The court sided with the university's decision to ban drag shows on campus and sent the case to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a petition by students at West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) to organize a drag show on campus, siding with the university's decision to ban drag performances on school grounds.

WTAMU's student-run LGBTQ+ organization Spectrum WT and students Barrett Bright and Lauren Stovall filed the emergency petition with the court, asking that they be allowed to hold a drag show on campus and claiming that the university's ban is unconstitutional and infringes on their First Amendment rights.

Spectrum WT scheduled its annual drag show benefitting the Trevor Project, an advocacy group focused on suicide prevention efforts for LGBTQ+ youth, on March 22. According to the organization's social media, the performance is scheduled to take place in the university's student center and be open to those 18 and older. Minors would be allowed to attend with a parent or guardian.

The order from the Supreme Court likely prevents the group from going ahead with the performance, at least on campus, during the ongoing legal proceedings. However, Spectrum WT is still selling tickets to the show. The organization has not responded to a request for comment.

The case will be sent to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is scheduled to hear arguments in the case the week of April 29, according to CNN.

Throughout the legal process, the First Amendment advocacy group Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is representing the students.

"Whether it’s a fiery political speech, Bible study, or drag performance, the First Amendment protects student groups from public university administrators who want to silence speech simply because it offends them," a March 6 statement from FIRE read.

"Yet, that’s exactly what West Texas A&M University President Walter Wendler did last March, invoking his personal views to cancel student group Spectrum WT's PG-13 drag show intended to raise funds and awareness for suicide prevention."

A Year of Litigation

The legal case against WTAMU has been pending since last year when university President Walter Wendler canceled a student-run drag show on March 21, 2023, in a 740-word email calling drag performances "derisive, divisive, and demoralizing."

Students filed a lawsuit shortly after Wendler's announcement attempting to stop him from censoring the organization and seeking to reinstate the performance. They also claimed their First Amendment rights were violated and sought damages.

The case ended up in front of U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who sided with the university and ruled that Wendler has qualified immunity, protecting him from individual liability when acting in his official capacity as university president when his actions "could reasonably have been believed to be legal."

Kacsmaryk also argued that drag shows fall under the category of "sexualized content" and maintained that schools are allowed to restrict "vulgar and lewd" conduct that "undermines the school's basic education mission."

"In short, Wendler imposed a viewpoint-driven prior restraint on speech — an intolerable First Amendment violation that should not have lasted a day, let alone a year," FIRE's statement read.