Animosity Over Drag

John Carroll President Michael D. Johnson asks students to “respect his decision” about the recent cancellation of the annual drag show. Today, Johnson delivered a statement about why he banned any future drag shows on campus, but it really reads much like his previous statement with no real clear reason for the ban. His statement reads more of supporting the hate filled speech that was centered around the post that caused this ban to take place. It would be simple to say that the campus was divided along the lines of religious heterosexuals wanting to ban what is seen as offensive programming versus the LGBTQIA+ community that wants to see it continue on campus. The reality is that even the LGBTQIA+ community at large is divided over whether drag is part of our cultural identity. 

 In the statement given by Johnson, he said, “Our goal and guiding principle with respect to student programming is clear. That is to provide students with opportunities that promote the expression, appreciation and understanding of the many identities represented at John Carroll University.” However, based on the decision to ban any future drag shows on campus, it seems that expression, appreciation, and understanding is given as freely to the LGBTQIA+ students on campus. The statement reads more in support of the hate filled article that started this ban, as opposed to the inclusiveness he tries to state is a principle of the University.  

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 While Johnson claims to “unambiguously supports our LGBTQIA+ community of students, faculty and staff,” his decision seems to lean more towards placating Leary’s op-ed in the Carroll News last year. The statement issued by Johnson does nothing to address the vitriol that filled Leary’s post. Johnson said he felt “the drag show is not the best way to proceed.” Drag has been part of LGBTQIA+ cultural identity since at least the 1930s and has become a cultural phenomenon with the popularity of shows that RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Boulet Brothers Dragula. Students on John Carroll University campus were quoted as saying “the drag shows were the single most well attended even on campus.”   According to the article posted on Prizm News today, Eddie Jenkins, the Student Union Programming Board President, which largely funded the event. “The drag show has a Q&A at the end where people who attend the event are actively engaged and learning.” I am not sure about you, but when I was in college, I cannot remember a single event on campus that provided a Q&A after it was over to help students understand what they just saw.

 However, even the LGBTQIA+ at large seems to be torn over whether drag should be supported on campus or even in the community. Going through any hook up app you can see more and more profiles claiming to want only butch, masculine, or straight acting men, while saying things like no fats, femmes, or drag queens. The toxic masculinity that permeates even our own community has many saying how those who dress in drag are less than equal to those who do not. What many fail to remember his how drag has been a part of our community for a very long time and that it was people of color, trans gender, and drag queens that pushed ahead the gay rights movement. These are the same ones that say drag queens are a joke and ruining the gay community.

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Photo by FransA on Pexels.com

 This event is not isolated to Cleveland alone, we are seeing it take place across our country. in Michigan Republican candidate Jim Meijer cancelled a pre booked drag show because he felt it endangered some of the participants that had Down’s Syndrome. Drag Syndrome is a popular drag troupe from the UK that does have members with Down’s Syndrome. Meijer felt that those participants failed to have the cognitive presence to be able to give full consent to perform, thereby Drag Syndrome was exploiting them. NBC News  quoted the 20-year-old drag king Justin Bond saying, “There’s no way I’m letting you treat us that way. We deserve to perform, we deserve to be who we are, and live our lives as we are… it doesn’t matter if we are disabled, or [from a] different country, that’s what we have got to do and that’s what we are here to do.” The troupe was shocked at the controversy and hatred they received over having Down Syndrome drag performer. Meijer stated “Fair to say I didn’t expect Down syndrome Drag shows to be a defining issue of my congressional campaign,” he wrote on Twitter. “Come what may, I won’t apologize for doing what’s right.”

 Our community needs to rally, not wallow in division. Society, at large, has little in the way of care for our rights, we are merely attractions for them in the zoo of life. You may not agree with drag, but you still should support your community. Each and every one of us can add to the greater collective of fighting for the rights that are being stripped away from us, whether it be on a privately funded college campus or our jobs and housing. These are two incidents that reflect a larger problem. Get over whatever internalize hatred or fear you have of men dressing up as women and work for the common good, before it’s too late. 

 Dear Members of the John Carroll Community,

Our goal and guiding principle with respect to student programming is clear. That is to provide students with opportunities that promote the expression, appreciation and understanding of the many identities represented at John Carroll University. Our educational mission remains grounded in the integration of faith and culture and a respect for the dignity of the human person. We welcome and support all of our students.

 Back in April, I communicated my concerns regarding the divisiveness on campus related to the Carroll News and the need for respectful discourse. Recently I met with students, faculty and staff regarding my decision to not hold a drag show on campus at this time. John Carroll unambiguously supports our LGBTQIA+ community of students, faculty and staff. How best to do so is the question at hand. In my judgment, the drag show is not the best way to proceed. Rather, we need more and better programming that promotes the awareness and understanding of all identities on campus, especially our LGBTQIA+ students, and creates broader engagement. It became clear to me that repeating what we did last year would only add to the divisiveness and discontent and fail to advance our goal. I also informed the students that we will re-evaluate where we stand as we get closer to the end of the academic year, but not before.

 While I do not expect everyone to agree with the decision, I ask that you respect the decision. Vice Presidents McCarthy and Peck are working with a number of departments on campus regarding our programming. We look forward to hearing from our students, faculty and staff regarding their ideas.

 Best wishes,

 Michael D. Johnson, Ph.D.

President, John Carroll University

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