Texas A&M, America’s Largest College, Won’t Say Why It Fails at Campus Drag Show

When Texas A&M University held its first drag show two years ago, it was met with almost immediate opposition. Right-wing student groups have campaigned to shut it down, gathering more than 1,800 signatures on a petition claiming that the February 2020 event will foster an “atmosphere of depression” quit” on campus. Dozens of protesters gathered outside Texas A&M’s Rudder Auditorium holding signs that read “God made them male and female” and “Texans reject transgender tyranny.”

The backlash was even worse the following year. A petition referring to the program – dubbed “Draggieland” in a reference to the university’s nickname – as “sinful” and “immoral” this time attracted nearly 20,000 words. sign. It was accompanied by an even larger demonstration. Daniel Hou, chief executive officer of Draggieland 2022, said protesters splashed holy water on LGBTQ+ students with their fingers.

Despite the setbacks, the performances were a resounding success. The criticism inadvertently backfired by serving as free advertising for Draggieland, leading to both shows being sold out completely. (Some students and faculty who were unable to purchase tickets joined protesters outside the event.) RuPaul’s Drag Race alums Mo Heart and Alyssa Edwards host the 2020 and 2021 shows, respectively, as local amateur drag artists compete for the title of “Queen of Draggieland”.

Hou said that witnessing strong support for the LGBTQ+ community at Texas A&M “means the world” to him. America’s largest college by student enrollment is also one of the most loyal to Republicans: From 2012 to 2015, the Princeton Review ranked the Bryan-College Station campus — home to more than 72,000 students — the best university in the country for conservatives to attend.

“I cried,” Hou said The Daily Beast. “For both years, I danced in my place. It is the greatest celebration of our culture and history that Texas A&M has ever been able to fund and operate. I’m really proud of Texas A&M. For two solid years, I thought, ‘Okay, you all do it! All of you are working. “

That hope was short-lived. After a two-year partnership with the event, Texas A&M abruptly turned down Draggieland last year and withdrew its sponsorship for the 2022 show. Although Draggieland is primarily funded through ticket sales, the university does. over the years have financially supported its upfront costs — including reservation titles — and the program pays them back through profits from the event. Without that support, the students were forced to raise funds to put on the show on their own.

“They are actively making discriminatory decisions against LGBTQ students with the aim of ensuring that LGBTQ representation is not the face of Texas A&M.”

– Frey Miller

What made matters worse was that organizers said they were given no explanation as to why Texas A&M pulled out of Draggieland, even after nearly eight months of trying to get answers from the school. Frey Miller, president of transgender student group Transcend, says The Daily Beast that the move is “set in the context of what institutional and systemic phobias are on the Texas A&M campus.”

“Texas A&M has made it clear that the government is part of that discrimination,” Miller said. “They are actively making decisions that discriminate against LGBTQ students with the aim of ensuring that LGBTQ representation is not the face of Texas A&M.”

The decision dates back to August 2021, when Texas A&M’s campus programming committee, MSC Town Hall, was informed by the board of directors that the school would no longer host Draggieland. MSC City Hall plans to host 30 to 40 large-scale events throughout the year, and internal committees within the department work with student groups to coordinate ideas for the coming semesters. A 2022 proposal for Draggieland was not even submitted when the event was cancelled.

“In my view, there was no attempt to involve any MSC student or staff member in this decision, nor was there any reason for the decision being made.”

– Bradin Hanselka

MSC Town Hall President Bradin Hanselka says he has been informed by the board of directors that if his team tries to propose bringing the show back, the consequences could include the division “possibly removing” from China. Texas A&M Memorial Student Center or “may be terminated.”

“In my view, no attempt was made to involve any MSC students or staff in this decision, nor was there any reason for the decision to be made,” Hanselka said. The Daily Beast in an email.

The LGBTQ+ student groups behind Draggieland say they were never contacted directly by Texas A&M authorities about the decision. Miller said that show organizers – including their own, Transcend – remain “absolutely unaware of what criteria were used to determine this decision or what made an event sponsored and OK to be affiliated with an official university faculty.”

“The real problem is unresolved,” Miller said. “The decision-making logic behind the ruling has yet to be revealed in any capacity.”


Alyssa Edwards, of RuPaul’s Drag Race, performing at DraggieLand in 2021.

Joey Ward / Aggieland Yearbook

While LGBTQ+ groups on campus say they plan to still host Draggieland independently, a lack of support from Texas A&M has made it more difficult to organize the event. Expenses from previous years amounted to $20,000, and students were forced to finance the entire amount themselves. Zanab Toppa, Draggieland’s finance president, said organizers have, to date, raised more than $7,000 from small donations, with additional funds continuing.

While LGBTQ+ students say they’re grateful for the support they’ve received from sponsors, organizing the event itself has been a heavy burden, pulling them away from their studies and commitments. other. Miller said of planning the performance: “It places a huge responsibility on the students. “We’re happy to do it because it’s so important to us, but it’s also done in a way that can positively hurt LGBTQ students.”

Toppa, who served as president of the LGBTQ+ networking group oSTEM, questioned why the student organizers were included in the position in the first place. Draggieland is one of Texas A&M’s top-grossing student events, and Toppa said MSC City Hall had $8,000 in reserve for this year’s gig based on profits from 2021. shock, Toppa added, because Draggieland was awarded the MSC City Hall Program of the Year. in 2021 and is a strong contender to win again this year.

“This year’s Draggieland-related circumstances are not an isolated event.”

– Zanab Toppa

Toppa said of the program: “Personally, I don’t see a reason why the university wouldn’t be associated with it, other than personal influences. “The circumstances involving Draggieland this year are not an isolated one, and it is important to place it in the context of a series of administrative decisions regarding student affairs made without no student opinion.”

Critics say the Draggieland controversy is part of Texas A&M’s much older history of hindering LGBTQ+ activism organized on campus. In 1977, a group called Gay Student Services sued after administrators refused to grant the institution official recognition, citing Texas law prohibiting domination, which remains on the books for until the Supreme Court Lawrence and Texas judgment in 2003. The case went to SCOTUS before it was settled by a lower court decision in 1984 in favor of LGBTQ+ students.


Contestants at DraggieLand 2021.

Joey Ward / Aggieland Yearbook

Today, Texas A&M recognizes several groups of LGBTQ+ students — including the LGBTQ Aggies, who are also sponsors of Draggieland — but things have remained the same with many changes. Last year, a faculty member responded to a string of emails related to a planned Pride Month event by accusing organizers of trying to “encourage or glorify sexual immorality.” education,” according to the student newspaper. Battalion.

LGBTQ+ students claim Texas A&M has done little to address homophobia and homophobia on its campus. In February, the Texas A&M chapter on Young Americans for Freedom hosted a lecture by right-wing commentator Matt Walsh in the ballroom of the Memorial Student Center. Walsh, host of a popular podcast for the conservative news site Daily ropeused the speech to refer to “leftist gender ideology” as an “incoherent, dangerous, destructive, crazy, toxic, malicious, terrible mess”.

The university did not release a statement condemning the remarks following the event. Just hours before Walsh spoke at Texas A&M, The Daily Beast reported that a producer for his show attempted to obtain interviews with transgender activists by falsely claiming that the conversations were part of a documentary about student.

“Over the past four years, it has been wonderful to create a space for myself and create a space for LGBT people of color and LGBT people in general.”

– Daniel Hou

Hou says incidents like these make being an LGBTQ+ student at Texas A&M “happy and bitter.” While he’s proud of the work that campus groups like Transcend and LGBTQ Aggies have done to make the college more inclusive, Hou noted that Texas A&M was recently the subject of an exhibition Battalion about its growing ties to influential lobbying groups like the Drivers Association. The website of the right-wing alumni organization claims its mission is to bring “Aggie” back to Aggieland. “

“Over the past four years, it has been wonderful to create a space for myself and to create a space for LGBT people of color and LGBT people in general,” said Hou, a senior this year. “It’s beautiful, it’s moving, but it’s also hard work.”

Texas A&M did not respond to a request for comment on this story prior to publication, but even without the school’s support, LGBTQ+ students vowed to continue fighting to make their university. they become a safer place for their friends. Draggieland’s 2022 edition is scheduled for April 18, and organizers say the theme is “shining” as a testament to the community’s perseverance. Instead of bringing together big-name entertainers, the goal of this year’s event was to showcase local drag performers in the Bryan-College Station area.

Miller hopes audiences will focus on this topic after a rough year for LGBTQ + Texas. Many of their classmates, Miller said, were directly impacted by a February order from Governor Greg Abbott directing the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to investigate parents who advocate for transgender children because ““ child abuse”. The policy was temporarily blocked in court as advocates sued to overturn it.

While Miller hasn’t been able to attend Draggieland in previous years, they say what’s special about the show is that it inspires LGBTQ+ students to “look their best and loudest,” no matter what. what else is going on in their lives. Many students attending the event dress up as well as they can to try to outdo the drag performers on stage, and Miller says that “watch everyone walk into the venue that has been completely made up: gowns. , pumps and everything”.

“A lot of times when gay people meet on the campus of Texas A&M, they come together against hate, as opposed to supporting our representation,” they said. “The great thing about Draggieland is that people can get together to celebrate the weird instead of fighting against the phobia.” Texas A&M, America’s Largest College, Won’t Say Why It Fails at Campus Drag Show

Russell Falcon

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