Drag Ban at John Carroll University

It is often that people, even in our own community, say that times are getting better for the LGBTQ community and that our need to keep fighting has reached an end. This administration, alone, has proven that to not be the case. We cannot stop fighting until we no longer have to hear things like gay families or LGBTQ students instead of just families or students. We should not have to conform for this to happen, as we are no different than our heterosexual counterparts. This has become much more evident with the recent declaration made by John Carroll University to cancel its annual drag show. These are the very reasons we have to fight.

August 28, 2019, John Carroll University President Michael D. Johnson made a public statement that it would be cancelling the annual drag show that they had been hosting since 2013. The reason for the cancellation? Because of an article posted in the Carroll Newsby Declan Leary in 2018. Why did it take so long? There does not seem to be a clear and concise answer as to why. What is known is that the article itself is being classified as hate speech, by many. Leary has been quoted as saying the drag show as “deliberate actions of sexual deviance”and “a scandalous attempt at the corruption of Catholic youth by the very priests and laypeople charged with their education.” Leary was further quoted that the event was “a flagrant celebration of sexual perversity” and even said that the university should seek to return to more traditional Catholic values. Leary believes that the administration should “seek to purge this place of the evils that have invaded it.” It would clearly seem that Leary thinks that John Carroll University is no place for LGBTQ people.

John Carroll University

President Johnson was said to offer a stance of neutrality in the meeting about cancelling the drag shows, trying to make the students understand the view of the religious side and why cancelling the event offered a way to understand them. According to an article by Ken Schneck in PRIZM, “Several student groups have already pledged to protest this decision and host a series of educational events around the topics of drag, LGBTQ+ inclusion on campus.”

While Leary’s article was posted in 2018, this is not the first time that the university has come under fire, by the religious right, for having a drag show. In an article from TFPStudentAction.org (A right wing extreme christian paper)  states that “even dips into student funds to pay for the annual drag show, without giving Catholic students the option to opt-out of financing an event that undermines their own Catholic beliefs.” It’s funny how this is the stance they take, and it is never offered to students to not have the money they give the school not fund sports activities if they are against it or any other organization that the University uses student monies for. Instead it is much easier to claim this than to show the more intolerant side of why they perceive it to be an issue. TFP Student Action’s article about “Immoral Drag Shows” speaks very vehemently about how they feel it is offensive and an extension of sin and evil. Out of the many drag shows that I have attended, the only time I have ever seen even there has been from a queen that either didn’t win the show or received far fewer tips than other performers. I am pretty sure Satan in all his glory would not cross a drag queen and her drag tips.

white and multicolored love is love banner
Photo by 42 North on Pexels.com

There have been multiple letters that were sent to the school’s paper calling out Leary and his hate speech. In the course of all the letters received, only one showed in support of Leary. Leary feels it is the fault of the university that the LGBTQ students are calling his article hate speech. Hate speech is defined as abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, based on race, religion, or sexual orientation. Leary’s op-ed used statements like the university needs to be purged of evils and flagrant celebrations of sexual perversity is right along the lines of hate speech. Leary claims to have received many emails in support of his article, none of those have been shown in any article about this event.

Lillian Perkins, a nonbinary student, wrote a letter to the paper opposing their decision to post Leary’s article. Perkins is already concerned about the complicated environment on the campus of John Carroll, for LGBTQ students, and feels that the article could empower other students to react negatively to LGBTQ students.  According to Cleveland.com, Perkins was quoted as saying “My identity is not up for debate, this is not a hot-button topic in the first place. My LGBTQ+ peers are not an issue to be addressed in a newspaper … The fact he even thinks it’s up for debate is dehumanizing.” Eric Hayes, communications and development director for the LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland said that he knows John Carroll University has worked with them on diversity and inclusion in the past. However, he feels there is a difference between debating having a drag show on their campus and saying that it promotes immorality or sexual perversion.

woman opening her mouth
Photo by FransA on Pexels.com

It is important to point out that this performance is being targeted because of the term “drag show.” After all, it is a well-known documented fact that throughout history men have dressed as women in theater productions and was never a cause of such an uproar. It is simply because of the implied connection between the word “drag” and the LGBTQ community, this coupled with intolerant mindsets disguising themselves under the causality of religious freedom  that allows this to go unchecked. These are the very reason why we cannot give up a fight that still very much is concerned with our subjugation and persecution.

\The very words that Declan Leary uses dances the lines of hate speech, these are very similar words that are used by our leaders and other people in our country to continue to discriminate against those they do not agree with. If we speak out against their words, they tell us that we are trying to force our views and choices on them. This needs to stop and is exactly why our fight is not finished. These views have no place in education where the foremost thought should be on obtaining knowledge to better ourselves, not perpetuating hate.


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