Prizm News / September 9, 2019 / By Taylor Hartman
I am deeply perturbed by the abrupt cancellation of the annual drag show I helped organize and start on campus when I was a student. I was informed by Ashley Bennet, the previous president of the Allies group and alum of John Carroll, that this year’s annual drag show would not be happening. The people in power, namely President Johnson, have yet again let down the campus and community by denying something people expect and look forward to every year. What really bothers me is the fact the president of JCU cannot even give the community a clear explanation other than telling us to try to understand the “other side” of the issue.
What issue? What “other side” is the president referring to? To properly celebrate diversity week in September, you’ve decided to cut down one of the cornerstones of the LGBTQ’s community’s activities to assert your lack of understanding. I get it. It’s a private and religious campus but, that doesn’t mean your viewpoints are right, just, or warranted.
I am here to celebrate Diversity Week. This is not the time or place to tell any queer person what to focus on. Are you serious? Considering all the talk about acceptance and love by the staff, faculty, and administration to prospective students, the reality of what happens is quite the opposite. I am furious of the actions (or lack thereof) here. I’m pointing my fingers at many of the complacent students, faculty, and staff who have no idea what damage they are doing and how misguided their views are by trying to look out for the “best interests of the campus,” as if drag queens are dangerous and vile. I am no different than anyone else on campus.
Having gone to catholic school for 16 years, this type of vague bigotry has been ongoing and a way for religion to be used as a weapon. This is not normal. I’m fed up with so much persecution in the name of religion. Is the campus so afraid of diversity that they must use their religious and power to darken others’ light? If you’re trying to sell people on the idea that you’re a wholesome and loving religious community, why would anyone in the LGBTQ community dream of spending their money to attend JCU? So, queer students can remain let down by the administration? No.
Why bother having a center for diversity and inclusion if you’re just going to ignore and banish us through an abuse of power. Answer that, President Johnson. The administration needs to be held accountable. I’m sick and tired of vague responses and a lack of assertiveness. If you’re leading a campus, you oversee the welfare of so many different voices. If you cannot embrace difference and love on those who offer the world a beautiful future, what are you doing? Your behavior tells me you really have no idea what you’re talking about. The real world outside of the JCU bubble of privilege would condemn this abrupt and vague cancellation, so why should this be treated any differently?
The drag show has been a staple every year and the students hosting it have appropriately applied for and exercised every necessary task to make it possible. There have never been any incidents or threat of safety or contemptible behavior. Every year, we pride ourselves on sharing our personal stories after the show and share what it is like being in the LGBTQ community. Students and faculty alike have attended and have enjoyed themselves and felt something special after the events. Students have come up to me explaining that my presence on campus has allowed them to be their genuine and authentic versions of themselves.
What drag does is break down barriers and instills hope and love to people who need it the most. I can assume and imagine the campus administration must think this type of shared world experience is LGBTQ propaganda, because that’s the natural response for many closed-minded people. If that’s the case, I would not be surprised. Unfortunately, I have very little to work with, so I expect the worst, considering it is no secret many religious extremists on campus think gay people and drag entertainers are sinful and going to hell. Just because you have an opinion, doesn’t make you right.
Face reality: the LGBTQ community isn’t going anywhere. We are who we are. If you want to exercise your right to be yourself, go for it. But, when you are unable to extend that respect to others (especially those different than you), it shows your true colors. The world doesn’t need more bigots, it needs more love.
As a JCU alum who is not religious, I understand the fact that the campus is private and religious. However, that doesn’t excuse your power to unfairly cut down a community’s staple and yearly event out of the blue, with no reasoning, especially for an event that is so empowering and beautiful. Looking out for the best interest of the students would be to celebrate drag and the LGBTQ community instead of caving in to pressure by biased people talking in your ear.
Drag is art. It is not sexual perversion or anyone trying to harm anyone. What drag queens do is entertain through makeup and interpretive dance. If that bothers you, you are part of the problem. If you’re proud of that decision and stand by it, do not be surprised when you have droves of angry queer people who are fed up with being outcasts and allies who will fight tooth and nail to support their friends and family. We all want a slice of the time, energy, and money we have put into the campus. Everyone pays tuition and deserves equal respect and love.
What is going on here is ridiculous and hateful. Once again, bigotry tries to slide under the radar through the guise of religious protection and “safety.” The last time I checked, when someone uses religion as a protection to deny other people equal rights, it is usually out of spite and bias. JCU alum often say “Go forth and set the world on fire” but, what exactly are you saying through your actions by overtly denying something for no logical reason other than to keep the “best interest” of all? Excuse me? What does this say to the families of queer students and to all the alums who are out and proud. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Quite frankly, given all the disrespect and discrimination others and myself have faced while on campus—and still face—I would’ve picked a different college. I truly mean that. No one should ever deal with feeling discriminated against for existing to spread love and acceptance through art.
JCU should be ashamed. I implore the campus to reflect on their beliefs and actions. Who are you serving, yourself or the community? Who are you hurting? Does the end justify your means? It certainly looks like the president, administration, and students have a lot to ponder this semester.
Taylor Hartman received his B.S. from JCU in 2015 and his M.S.S.A. from JCU 2017. He performs in Cleveland as Anhedonia Delight, hosting GlamGore, a monthly drag show at the Grog Shop.