Motions were filed Monday in US District Court Northern District of Texas in response to a lawsuit filed against West Texas A&M President Walter Wendler and other Texas A&M University officials by WT Spectrum, a student-led LGBTQIA+ organization, for canceling a charity drag show on campus.
The lawsuit was initially filed on March 24, alleging that Wendler violated the First Amendment rights of WT Spectrum and its members for the canceling of their event based on his personal religious views. In the complaint, the group alleges that a public university official suppressing student expression for these views is unconstitutional.
Lawyers for Wendler argue in the motion that a right to host a drag show is not a clearly established First Amendment authority and that drag shows are not inherently expressive for individuals to convey speech through. Also, within the motion, there is a claim of qualified immunity for Wendler as long as his conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights that a reasonable person would have known.
His lawyers also state that the drag show was only expressive to the extent of how WT Spectrum explains that it is expressive. WT Spectrum, in their lawsuit, claim that drag has become a mainstream form of performance art and commentary on identity. Wendler’s lawyers argue that these performances cannot be viewed as speech with unexpressed messages intended to be conveyed with the drag show.
Wendler’s lawyers explained as follows in the response:
“Many drag shows are pure entertainment. An observer watching a drag show has no way of knowing whether the performers are expressing anything unless the performance is accompanied by an explanation of the alleged message. But that means that drag shows are not inherently expressive and are not protected by the First Amendment.”
In the motion, Wendler’s legal team asserts that he has a right to make assumptions that a drag show would be lewd and has a right to restrict this type of student activity on campus.
“Plaintiffs do not have a constitutional right to put on a lewd drag show on campus,” the documents read. “No authority says they do. Defendants were within their rights to assume that the requested drag show might be lewd. There is absolutely no authority and plaintiffs cite none, establishing the constitutional right to hold a drag show on a public university campus, lewd or otherwise.”
University officials state in their motion that any injury from the statement of Wendler is actionable only to Wendler and not the university system as a whole, as that decision was made by him alone.
This article originally appeared on Amarillo Globe-News: Wendler's legal team disputes claims in WT drag show lawsuit