PRIDE put on its sixth annual drag show, sparking discussion on campus
The University of San Diego’s Supreme Drag Superstar is an annual event aimed at inspiring and empowering students that also draws debate over Catholic values and the free expression of sexuality.
At the beginning of this month, USD PRIDE hosted the sixth annual Supreme Drag Superstar (SDS) in Shiley Theater. The 600-seat theater was filled to capacity as the drag kings and queens presented their unique talents, including comedy, dance, poetry, and song.
This year’s master of ceremonies was Milk, who is well known for her appearance on season six of RuPaul’s Drag Race on VH1. The witty drag queen strutted the stage, flirted with the judges, and kept the audience laughing all night long.
Since SDS’s inception in 2011, a range of Catholic protesters have called for the show to stop, including several online petitions signed and supported by the group “Alumni for a Catholic USD.” In 2014, some protesters took their complaints to the Diocese of San Diego and then to the Vatican.
The group continued its prayer vigil this year, with six community members convening outside of Camino to pray.
Included in the prayer group was Jenny Kern a USD alumna from the class of 1965. As an alumna, she feels that the drag show should not occur on campus. Kern said she heard about it from other alumni and had seen photos from previous shows.
“As an alumna, I understand why Sister [Sally] Furay started the support group for gay people, and I totally understand that was something that was needed and something of God; however, this particular event is carrying it too far,” Kern said.
“The dancing is too lewd, and the idea is too far gone to be held on the campus. To the people who are performing, [know] that Jesus loves you completely. However, this kind of behavior on this campus is not respectful to the campus.”
Though the show faces controversy, USD administration has not prevented the event from reoccurring. According to Christopher Harrop, the president of USD PRIDE, several associations on campus made sure the show goes on as planned and is aligned with USD policies.
“The Supreme Drag Show planning committee works closely with representatives from Student Affairs and University Ministry to ensure that the show aligns with USD’s Mission and Values,” Harrop said.
“All performers and speakers must agree to a detailed list of guidelines to be able to participate in the show. Planning SDS would not be possible without significant support from several other organizations on campus, including Associated Students, Torero Program Board, the Women’s Center, and the United Front Multicultural Center, among many other collaborators who participate in our pre-show information garden. PRIDE is extremely thankful for these organizations’ continued support and collaboration.”
Michael Lovette-Colyer, Assistant Vice President and Director of University Ministry, has helped advise SDS since the first show in 2011. He said the show is consistent with Catholic teachings of love, acceptance, and compassion.
“The show is about gender expression and gender identity, and as such it is entirely consistent with our Catholic identity to support students of all gender identities and gender expressions,” Lovette-Colyer said. “That does not contradict any church teachings. If there is a man who expresses who he is in ways that are more traditionally feminine or wants to dress in ways that are more typically female, there are no prohibitions against that. In fact, that is very much in alignment with our concern for supporting all people and recognizing the dignity of each and every person.
Lovette-Colyer emphasized the essence of Jesus’ teachings and how supporting students is aligned with USD Catholic thought.
“The essence of the teachings of Jesus is love and the foundational principle of Catholic Social Thought is the dignity of the human person,” Lovette-Colyer said. “Since all people are created in the image and likeness of God, all possess inalienable human dignity — this includes people of all gender expressions and gender identities. It is entirely Catholic to accept and celebrate people who identify in different ways in regards to gender expression and identity and to know they are welcomed and celebrated on our campus.”
Jillian Tullis, Ph.D. was a judge in this year’s show. Tullis described her new faculty orientation which discussed the drag show controversy and emphasized seeing students holistically, not focusing on one aspect of their identities.
“In new faculty orientation, we discussed the drag show and USD caring for the whole person and seeing the student, no matter what they look like,” Tullis said. “You are all God’s children no matter what external expression looks like. I love drag, and it’s always really good to support students in a highly visible way. The performers were very good. I didn’t know what to expect. It’s easy to get caught up in the entertainment, but to have the message embedded it reminded us why drag [is] important.”
Tyler Henry, a senior at USD who performed at SDS, explained what made him want to participate in the show.
“I wanted to be a part of the drag show because it is one of the few queer spaces on campus that is dedicated to celebrating our community,” Henry said.
“I was first introduced to the show sophomore year (two years ago) as an extra credit opportunity in my Homosexuality and Christianity course. I was not a main performer but still performed in drag, and it was fun. I was able to try something new with low risk and receive class credit. After coming out later that year, drag held more importance in my life because it was a fun escape.”
Henry shared his opinion regarding those who prayed outside Camino.
“I honestly don’t think, or at least hope, that those praying have malicious intentions,” Henry said. “I will accept prayers from anyone, my mom still prays for me all the time, it is just a matter of what they’re praying for. If they are praying for the thriving of queer lives in order that they may be fully human as God intended them to be, I think that’s great. If they are trying to ‘pray the gay(s) away’ on the other hand, that is homophobic and not going to happen. Even when I graduate, I plan on being an active alumni, so sorry, but this gay is here to stay.”
Regardless of opposition, the sold out event had a united atmosphere due to support from student, faculty, and staff attendees.
Henry stated the support was overwhelming.
“When I was on stage and heard the crowd, my entire body was pulsing with energy,” Henry said. “It was an amazing feeling. And when I had a standing ovation, I was really overwhelmed because of the support I felt in that theater. To me, it sends the message that queer people should be celebrated and supported on this campus.”
Harrop felt reaffirmed as he stepped out of his role as PRIDE President to assume his alter ego Dee Zastris.
“Each year, I am overwhelmed by the love and support I experience from students, faculty, and alumni,” Harrop said. “Shiley Theater on the night of the drag show is one of the most affirming, life-giving spaces I experience at USD.”
SDS 2017 Winners:
King: Dave Ursity
Queen: Princess Liberty Bell
Jennifer Givens, Assistant Feature Editor