On Sunday, Feb. 9, a petition was started on change.org to stop DRAGgieland, a Feb. 19 event showcasing drag queens, kings and other similar types of performers. Since its introduction, the petition has received over 1,500 signatures.
The petition states: “This event, funded by the university, contradicts the A&M core values, especially respect and excellence. The dress and actions of these performers are disrespectful to women, with men portraying women as objects of sexual exploitation for the entertainment of the student body. The actions of this event do not promote excellence of the student body, but instead foster a climate of degradation.”
Political science junior Brendan Cassell said this petition was started by himself, the president of Texas A&M’s chapter of The Knights of Columbus, and TFP Student Action to show that many members of the student body do not support this event and would like for it to be stopped.
“We’re not saying that the people putting on DRAGgieland don’t have a right to put on the show — of course they do,” Cassell said. “As students who uphold ourselves to a certain standard, we just want to make it clear that not all of us support [DRAGgieland].”
DRAGgieland protesters petitioned and held a banner in Academic Plaza on Feb. 11. One of the protestors, electronic systems engineering technology sophomore Erin McBride, said free speech is different from showing off people’s bodies in a way that is “inappropriate” and “doesn’t support chastity.”
“I believe people have the right to do what they want, but the fact that they are doing it on campus in [Rudder Theater] is abhorrent to me,” McBride said. “It encourages the objectification and sexualization of women, and I’m not for that at all, especially on my campus.”
On the other hand, visualization sophomore Caysey Mackey, an assigned female at birth (AFAB) queen who uses the name Jessy B Darling, said drag is about self-expression and positivity, not aimed to disrespect or discriminate against people.
“I am a [cisgendered] woman, and I love drag, and I do drag,” Mackey said. “I know many queens and kings personally that not only fight for the LGBTQ+ community, we fight for women too, like women’s equality and rights. I have never ever been to a show or performed at a show where anybody was disrespecting anybody.”
Participant applications for DRAGgieland state that lyrics and performance content must be rated PG-13. This requirement means the event will not contain nudity, stripping or movements that are sexually-oriented, and the radio-edit of songs is preferred.
Biology sophomore and drag queen Lily Fables is a competitor in DRAGgieland and said the First Amendment allows everyone to express themselves however they choose.
“Drag is the way I’m choosing to express myself to the world outside,” Fables said. “Also, everyone, whether they want to believe it or not, is in drag. We all put on a mask of some kind. Whether your mask is you throwing on a hoodie for the day and acting like you don’t know anybody or it’s throwing on a pair of drag 301’s [fake eyelashes] and a thigh-high boot. It’s up to you. We’re all in drag.”
Mackey said she has performed in many comedy drags shows such as “Movie Muffs” in Houston that aim to make people feel good and make them laugh. For her, drag has been liberating and a way for her to be a more outgoing version of herself.
“I feel so much more confident in drag than I do out of drag,” Mackey said. “When I’m performing, I am a completely different person. If that’s disrespectful to women, then I don’t know what is. Maybe [more] women need to get in drag for the first time and experience it for themselves because it is incredible.”
Protesters have also voiced concerns about the funding of DRAGgieland. Mackey said the host, a drag queen from RuPaul’s Drag Race Monique Heart, is the only person being paid for the event, and the competitors are only there to perform without compensation. Fables confirmed this.
“It’s a privately funded event that’s funded by ticket sales and not the university,” Fables said. “It’s not funded by anyone’s tuition, anyone’s tax dollars, it’s literally just [people] spending their own pocket money on this.”
Tickets to the event have been available for purchase for the last two and a half months through the MSC Box Office. General engineering sophomore Erik Fontaney, president of MUA Ags — a student organization with members that are volunteering and performing at DRAGgieland, said there was a dramatic increase in ticket sales after the protests began.
“This petition has really just brought more excitement for the event,” Fontaney said. “Sunday morning before anything happened, there [were] 424 tickets sold, and then as of [Tuesday] morning, the ticket sales were at 589.”
Since the petition began on Feb. 9, DRAGgieland has sold out all 750 seats in Rudder Theatre.
Mackey said she understands the protesters have every right to oppose the event because it is their right, but that should not stop the people who want to perform or attend from doing so.
“Yeah, the right to protest is in the first amendment as well, and they have every right to protest,” Mackey said. “They can protest all day long, but my problem comes with them trying to take it away. Just because you don’t agree with something, doesn’t mean you can take it away from other people that want to enjoy it.”