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Catholic university cancels long-running drag show because of ‘divisiveness’ on campus

‘We WILL be having drag queens on campus for diversity week activities’

Catholic colleges are surprisingly amenable to drag shows, but one such university had second thoughts after an unwanted controversy last fall.

John Carroll University was forced to release a statement Thursday confirming its cancellation of the annual drag show, which dates back to 2013, after the student government’s vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion outed the administration.

It’s an abrupt turn of events for the Jesuit institution in Ohio, which summoned campus newspaper staff to meet with its Title IX coordinator last fall after The Carroll News published a column critical of the drag-show tradition.

Op-Ed Editor Declan Leary laid the blame at the feet of campus administrators for never questioning a “flagrant celebration of sexual perversity,” calling into question their fidelity to Catholic teaching.

The newspaper received many letters accusing it of publishing “hate speech,” and the matter reached the local media. One letter to the editor by a professor accused Leary of “putrid rhetoric” for defending Catholic teaching.

The university has yet to acknowledge the drag show’s cancellation on its social media or news page, but it provided a statement to the Cleveland Plain Dealer that blamed the show’s cancellation on the “divisiveness” it had sparked on campus:

We are working with our students on new and more extensive programming that will promote the expression, appreciation and understanding of the many identities represented at John Carroll University. We are also engaging with community partners, alumni, and experts to advance the understanding of different points of view related to sexuality, faith, inclusion and respect.

MORE: Anti-drag student writer summoned to Title IX meeting by administration

Leah VanDine, the student official who outed the administration on Twitter, elaborated in a Facebook post Tuesday that President Michael Johnson “met with a few student leaders” and told them he was cancelling the show “this academic year”:

His reasoning lies in neutrality, as he believes that we all need to educate ourselves on “the other sides’ views.” As all activists know, neutrality just emboldens the oppressor, and because of this, we (namely Student Government and Allies, among others) will be planning protests and an educational series revolving around the benefits of drag, LGBTQ+ inclusion on campus, and how Catholics can use Catholic Social Teaching and the Catechism to accept and support those that are different from them. Similarly, in light of this and according to plans made last semester, we WILL be having drag queens on campus for diversity week activities.

VanDine told the Plain Dealer the decision makes the LGBT community feel “like we’re not welcome on campus.” It was an opportunity for students to have fun while learning about drag, she said.

She declined to tell the newspaper about discussions with alumni and donors to protest the decision “because of threats of violent counter-protest,” according to the Plain Dealer, which did not specify any known threat.

Others on campus told Fox 8 they were upset by the cancellation of the event, which was just weeks away.

Former JCU student and drag performer Warren Serrani, stage name “Aurora Thunder” (performance below), said he was present for the first drag show in 2013, which “just lit a spark within me.”

MORE: Catholic university’s drag show includes transvestite dressed as Satan

The university drag show is tame compared to what people associate with drag, focusing on diversity and inclusion, Serrani said:

I’ve had students come up to me and say they were inspired; I’ve had students come up to me and say I’ve accepted somebody new and opened my eyes and my heart and mind to be a more loving and accepting person. This show has so many benefits for people of all walks of life.

Eddie Jenkins, the first openly gay president of the Student Union Programming Board, said the drag show is one of the biggest draws of the year, attracting about 250 people. (The Cleveland Scene pegged the number at 150, citing another student who helped put on the show and called it “a safe place for the queer community.”)

The cancellation deprives the campus of an opportunity for “experiential learning,” Jenkins told the news station.

Read the reports.

MORE: Catholic student probed for criticizing drag show

IMAGE: Cleveland Drag / Youtube.com

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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