The Supreme Court won’t intervene in a dispute over drag shows at a public university in Texas

Estimated read time 3 min read

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Friday rejected an emergency appeal from a student group that has been blocked from staging a drag show at a public university in Texas.

The justices did not comment Friday in refusing to issue an order that would have allowed Spectrum WT — a group for LGBTQ+ students and allies — to put on a charity show on March 22 on the campus of West Texas A&M University in Canyon, located just south of Amarillo.

The high court had previously refused to allow Florida to enforce its law targeting drag shows, while lower federal courts in a Montana, Tennessee and Texas blocked state bans from being implemented. Drag shows across the country have been targeted by right-wing activists and politicians, and events nationwide like drag story hours, where drag queens read books to children, have drawn protesters.

The Texas college dispute first arose last year when the school’s president, Walter Wendrell, announced in a letter and column laden with religious references that drag performances would not be allowed on campus. Wendrell wrote that the shows discriminate against women and that the performances were “derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny, no matter the stated intent.” Wendrell blocked a show scheduled for a year ago.

Spectrum WT sued, arguing that drag wasn’t designed to be offensive and portraying it as a celebration of many things, including “queerness, gender, acceptance, love and especially femininity.”

But U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ruled against the group. “The First Amendment does not prevent school officials from restricting ‘vulgar and lewd’ conduct that would ‘undermine the school’s basic educational mission’ — particularly in settings where children are physically present,” Kacsmaryk, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, wrote last year.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which hears cases from Texas, refused to allow the drag show to go ahead or speed up its timetable for hearing and deciding the student group’s appeal.

Spectrum WT sought the Supreme Court’s intervention as the date for its 2024 drag show approached. Spectrum WT and its two student leaders who filed the lawsuit are represented by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, or FIRE, a national civil liberties group.

JT Morris, a senior attorney for FIRE, said in a statement, “While FIRE is disappointed by today’s denial of an emergency injunction, we’ll keep fighting for our clients’ First Amendment rights. The Fifth Circuit will hear oral arguments in the case next month. The show is not over.”