Students host drag show in protest to Michael Knowles visit to Purdue

WEST LAFAYETTE — Students at Purdue University had different reactions to Daily Wire host Michael Knowles being invited on campus by Purdue’s Young America’s Foundation chapter.

Several hundred screamed in excitement when he walked on stage. Several thousand protested his arrival on campus in a few ways.

Students protested Knowles appearance at two separate events. One was a traditional protest where students held signs outside of the event, while the other was a block party and drag show hosted by the Purdue Student Government and the Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics group.

Knowles made national news after he called for “transgenderism to be eradicated” from public life at a Conservative Political Action Conference earlier in the month.

After his event on campus, the Journal & Courier had the opportunity to speak with two students who were willing to share their opinions on Knowles’ event and what it meant to them.

'Crisis of Identity': Michael Knowles speaks to a packed room at Purdue University

Out of fear of retaliation from classmates or university faculty, both students requested to only go by their first names.

“Let it private, let it be personal.”

Jasper, an undergrad and transsexual student at Purdue University, attended Knowles' talk and left agreeing with many of the things that Knowles said.

Jasper said growing up he never felt like a normal girl, instead, he always had this desire to have a penis. But he lived in a conservative area of Texas, and in order to find himself, Jasper spent several years in therapy and lived for a year as a male before truly coming to terms with himself.

“It was whole actual genuine medical process that proved I had a genuine medical condition,” he said.

During this period of his life, he was able to discover himself at his own pace and never felt pressure from others about transitioning.

And that, Jasper said was one of the things he agreed with Knowles about, specifically the idea that in modern society LGBTQ views are being pushed onto kids. Jasper said this aspect of oneself should be cultivated naturally and not forced.

“Nowadays I would say it’s pushed on people when kids are encouraged through TikTok. There are TikToks of teachers having LGBTQ flags in their classroom and make kids pledge to the LGBTQ flag,” he said.

When he was younger, Jasper remembers fighting for trans rights. But for him, it was with the goal in mind for society to just accept transgender people, nothing more.

Jasper then started to notice that the fight for trans rights began expanding further than just acceptance and into a territory that he didn’t feel comfortable supporting.

Protesters wait outside of the Michael Knowles speech, Thursday, March 23, 2023, at Purdue Memorial Union in West Lafayette, Ind.
Protesters wait outside of the Michael Knowles speech, Thursday, March 23, 2023, at Purdue Memorial Union in West Lafayette, Ind.

“It went further than just acceptance, then there were more than two genders. I’m transsexual, I’m female to male. I’m not a third gender, I’m not non-binary, I’m not genderqueer and whatever all the new ones are,” he said.

“What I didn’t understand is how they denied their transsexual-ness is their biological sex. So, I appreciated how he emphasizes that it’s not real, because it’s not real.

“And the way that they deny that we are the biological sex that we don’t want to be. It kind of invalidates us.”

Jasper acknowledged there was one aspect of the night that disappointed him. Going into the event, he knew about the statement that Knowles made at CPAC, but he wanted to go in with an open mind and give him the benefit of the doubt.

Jasper agreed that the idea of transitioning should not be a topic pushed onto children and that determining oneself was a long and complex issue.

So, when he heard Knowles was against the notion of transgender in general, it made him sad.

“I thought he would have accepted for adults more. Which that’s OK, that’s his opinion and I understand his point. But I think I’m more libertarian and he’s more conservative. I think that’s the difference. I’m more if you’re 18, do whatever you want.”

Jasper emphasized he agreed with Knowles regarding the idea that transgender women shouldn’t be using women’s restrooms or participating in women’s sports.

“There’s like a line and I feel like the line's been pushed.”

Jasper believes transsexual and transgender people shouldn’t be trying to bring attention to themselves and instead should try to blend into society, especially now that transgender people are more accepted.

“Let it private, let it be personal. Don’t let my medical condition be exposed to the world.”

“If Purdue had found a way to prevent him from speaking here I would have felt safer”

When Carly heard that Knowles would be coming to campus to speak, she was upset by the fact Purdue University would even allow it to happen.

She saw Purdue University as a safe campus for queer students, noting that it’s been rated as having one of the best LGBTQ centers and services in the nation.

Veronica Fox performs during a drag show, Thursday, March 23, 2023, at Purdue UniversityÕs Loeb Playhouse in West Lafayette, Ind.
Veronica Fox performs during a drag show, Thursday, March 23, 2023, at Purdue UniversityÕs Loeb Playhouse in West Lafayette, Ind.

But, she said, Knowles appearance on campus caused her to reconsider how safe it is.

“Him being welcomed into this space; Purdue believes that they are a safe place for queer people. But an event like this proves that we are not and it’s just pretty devastating,” Carly said.

Students were hoping that Purdue University would step in and cancel the event once it saw the backlash among the student body.

But on March 15, Purdue’s Young American’s Foundation threatened legal action if Purdue tried to cancel the event, ensuring the event would continue as planned.

“I’m not a lawyer and I don’t know the legality of the situation by allowing him here or not. But if Purdue had found a way to prevent him from speaking here I would have felt safer. It would have actually felt like a safer environment,” Carly said.

As a queer graduate student, Carly said Purdue let her down by allowing Knowles to come to campus and it may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“After all that has happened, and just the anxiety leading up to that, I contemplated on cutting my graduate degree short and going somewhere else.”

When asked if there was anything Purdue could do to regain her trust as a student, Carly couldn’t say.

“I don’t know.

“I’ve just been in other environments that feel much more welcoming and safe. … In other areas, this is just a part of your life, not some like big thing I have to say or that I’m afraid I’m going to offend someone just because I exist.”

Carly opted to attend the drag show at Loeb Playhouse instead of the talk.

Even though she did not hear Knowles's words, the notion that Purdue would welcome him on campus is an issue that will forever live in the back of her mind, she said.

Noe Padilla is a reporter for the Journal & Courier. Email him at and follow him on Twitter at 1NoePadilla.

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Journal & Courier: Drag show protests Daily Wire host Michael Knowles visit to Purdue