Drag Show Bans Persist at West Texas A&M

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Photo by Adam Michael Szuscik, Supreme Court of the United States, First Street Northeast, Washington, DC, USA

The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) recently declined an injunction request by Spectrum WT, an LGBTQ+ student group at West Texas A&M University (WT), seeking permission to host a drag show on campus despite a ban from university administrators. The court’s brief unsigned order signifies that the event, scheduled for March 22 at a campus venue, is unlikely to proceed.

The request stemmed from university administrators blocking drag events on campus, which WT President Walter Wendler has described as “derisive, divisive, and demoralizing.” In January, when announcing the creation of The Hill Institute at WT — which will study and promote “Panhandle values” — Wendler stated that he wanted the institution to represent the conservative, Christian beliefs of the region.

The LGBTQ+ group alleges a violation of its First Amendment rights to free speech, also citing a policy that prevents university leaders from denying facility access due to political, religious, or ideological beliefs. Given that WT is a public university, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), who is representing Spectrum WT in a lawsuit against Wendler, argues that the ban is a clear example of prior restraint — a government action that prohibits speech or expression before it happens.

“[A] viewpoint-driven restraint that has hung over West Texas A&M for nearly a year will continue to irreparably injure college students’ free expression,” the injunction request reads. “Prior restraints are ‘the most serious and the least tolerable infringement’ of the First Amendment, unjustified even to thwart publication of military secrets. Yet one persists at a public university.”

JT Morris, the FIRE attorney representing Spectrum WT, affirmed the group’s intent to challenge the ban further. They will soon present oral arguments to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in New Orleans.

“If courts abdicate their responsibility to provide oversight when university officials overstep constitutional bounds, it will hollow out [SCOTUS’] well-settled rule that university presidents cannot arbitrarily parcel our First Amendment rights only to those groups of which they approve,” the court document reads.