US Supreme Court won’t compel West Texas A&M University to allow drag show

By Thomson Reuters Mar 15, 2024 | 12:29 PM

By John Kruzel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday rejected an LGBT student group’s bid to compel West Texas A&M University to allow a charity drag show on campus while a lawsuit accusing the school of violating free speech rights for barring the event plays out.

The justices denied a request by the LGBT student group, called Spectrum WT, to stop the school’s president, Walter Wendler, from prohibiting the show that he deemed misogynistic and disparaging of women. The student group has argued that the school violated the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protections for freedom of speech.

Spectrum WT in March 2023 sued officials at the university, located in Canyon, Texas, after Wendler barred the drag show planned for that month. Drag shows typically feature men dressed as women. Wendler, in explaining his decision, said such performances “stereotype women in cartoon-like extremes for the amusement of others and discriminate against womanhood.”

The group later held the charity event off campus, but it continued to seek an injunction barring Wendler from prohibiting future events including a planned drag show on March 22. The group is represented by the non-profit free-speech advocacy group Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.

Spectrum WT’s lawsuit included an allegation that school officials violated First Amendment speech rights by discriminating against the group based on their viewpoint.

“The First Amendment protects expressive conduct, including performance theater (like drag shows), whether held in high regard by supporters or low esteem by detractors,” the lawsuit stated.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in an interim ruling last September denied the group’s request for a preliminary injunction, casting doubt on their First Amendment claims because “it is not clearly established that all drag shows are inherently expressive.”

The group appealed to the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which declined to fast-track the case, scheduling arguments for late April. Spectrum WT responded by asking the U.S. Supreme Court to block the drag show ban while the case plays out.

The Supreme Court has a 6-3 conservative majority.

Some states including Texas have pursued Republican-backed measures targeting drag shows, drawing criticism from LGBT rights advocacy groups. A federal judge last September ruled that the Texas law limiting public drag performances was a First Amendment violation and forbid enforcement of it.

In November, the Supreme Court declined to revive a Republican-backed Florida law banning the performance of “lewd” drag shows in the presence of children after the measure was blocked by lower courts.

(Reporting by John Kruzel; Editing by Will Dunham)