SPARKILL – A student-organized drag show that was canceled by St. Thomas Aquinas College officials — who said the event conflicted with the private liberal arts school's religious principles — has sparked a debate about the college's identity.
The April 17 show was planned by the Gender and Sexuality Alliance club and was to feature performances by drag queens and kings — male and female students dressed as the opposite sex. Students had arranged for a professional drag queen from New York City to emcee the event.
The show and $150 in student activities funding for it was approved by the Student Government Association. But when the plan was sent to administrators to review, it was quashed.
College President Margaret Mary Fitzpatrick said in an interview that, in making the decision, the Catholic principle of "the dignity of the human person" was foremost in her mind.
"The question came to me — what would I think of a drag show on campus?" she said, recalling a conversation with Kirk Manning, vice president and dean for student development, who had spoken with students about the plan earlier.
"I thought there could be unintended consequences from a drag show," she said. "I was nervous about it."
Some students questioned the decision, saying they were confused about how much the college's Catholic heritage factored into student activities. Some complained they felt discriminated against.
On April 7, more than 75 students and several faculty members packed the student government association's monthly meeting and peppered Manning with questions. A few students defended the club for wanting to hold a drag show on campus even though they wouldn't attend such an event themselves. None spoke publicly in opposition to the idea.
Arianna Sotos, 20, a junior who is the secretary of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance, said in an interview the club has held awareness events in the past, such as marking bisexuality week and holding a day of silence to fight gender-based violence. The drag show would have been a first, she said.
"I viewed it as a way to mix entertainment and education and bring a valuable part of queer culture to the campus," said Sotos, a psychology major with dual minors in criminal justice and English.
Fitzpatrick said she was "afraid" a drag show on campus without prior education about it could prompt "students who didn't understand what was happening (to) make fun of other students," specifically those who were performing.
As an alternative, Fitzpatrick suggested the GSA hold an educational event and invite speakers to discuss gender identity, the history of drag shows and their role in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender culture.
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