SLU Sanctioned Drag Show Sparks Controversy


On Tuesday, Oct. 11, SLU students flooded into the Busch Student Center, anxiously waiting in line for the doors to a university-sponsored drag show to open.

At the same time, a small group of protesters stood at the intersection of Laclede and Grand Avenue. Their signs read “Homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. Under no circumstances can they be approved” and “Sinful lifestyles such as LGBTQ etc. gravely offend God.” Students passing by demonstrated their disapproval of these messages and two female students kissed directly in front of the group. 

     All six of the non-SLU-affiliated protestors interviewed were led by a man who identified himself as a priest. He denied having parochial affiliation and declined to give a personal name. The self-identified priest stated, “We are here to uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church.” He and his group maintained that the event promoted a sinful lifestyle. 

     He also expressed his frustration with SLU’s support of the event. He states that the administration has ignored complaints from himself, a Catholic, and others. “Parents who pay for their children to go here have complained to the university. I don’t have enough money to get in the door.”

   The group reached out to SLU College Republicans in hopes they would join in the protest. According to Carter Fortman, Chairman of the Missouri Federation of College Republicans and SLU sophomore, the information was passed along to its members but most chose not to join the unidentified group. 

     Fortman claims that the issue he, and many members of his group, had with the drag show is centered around the inequality of representation for SLU conservatives in comparison to representation of SLU liberals. “We tried to bring speaker, Matt Walsh, who talks about defining a woman and we weren’t allowed,” Fortman said. Fortman is referencing SLU’s decision to relocate Matt Walsh, an American right-wing political commentator and author, to an off campus venue. 

     Fortman also stated that the SLU administration denied their request to host Elisha Kraus, conservative commentator, writer, and podcaster. “Elisha is very Christian, but she’s not inflammatory. So these things not being allowed to happen, that’s the real problem.” 

  Fortman also spoke with the Young American Foundation (YAF), a conservative youth activism organization that offers SLU College Republicans support, for an article written by a YAF staff member about the drag show being hosted on a Catholic Campus. The article, however, personally targeted Thomas Patterson, a SLU employee, for his involvement in hosting the drag show. The article included personal photos of Patterson and information on how to reach him but SLU administration has since taken down Patterson’s profile from the SLU website. Fortman claims this was not his intention when he spoke to a YAF representative about the article. “I think the main focus of the article should have been the drag show,” Fortman stated. 

     And yet, the drag show continued as planned. Students attending, approximately 300, vastly outnumbered the six lone protestors. The Wool Ballroom was transformed into a lively atmosphere with a long stage, spotlights, and upbeat music. Students buzzed with excitement, taking pictures and chatting loudly.

     The show featured seven different entertainers, many from the local St. Louis area. Host and performer, Roxxy Malone, opened the show by setting ground rules that promote positivity and respect for the entertainers. Many of the costumes worn by performers were handmade with beads, jewels, and bright colors. They entered through curtains to songs sung by Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and a variety of other pop stars.

   The show was interactive and a student-faculty competition transpired approximately halfway through. Faculty contestants featured Sarah Cunningham,Ph.D SLU’s Vice President of Student Development, and Katie Heiden, Ph.D a member of SLU’s School of Medicine. Students picked as contestants were student body President, Aric Hamilton, and sophomore, Emma Lercher. 

    To Lercher, the show was about more than just the free Fright Festival tickets she won. “I’ve been watching Drag Race [a reality show where drag queens compete against each other] since 2020. It honestly got me through quarantine. So now that this event is here at SLU I’m really happy,” she said.

    The drag show was not just about bright colors and bright lights. The meaning goes much deeper for many celebrating National LGBTQ history month. “I think queer and drag history is mostly erased when it comes to talking about American history. So I think it’s really great that SLU is highlighting it with this event and I’m just really excited.” Lercher said. 

     Members of the Rainbow Alliance, a group that seeks to support members and allies of the queer community of SLU,  echoed Lercher’s sentiment. “We’re so excited to have a big event that’s just a celebration of queer joy,” executive board member of Rainbow Alliance and SLU junior, Abby Pribble stated.

   While the performers’ energy certainly celebrated their identities, they also took time to address the events going on outside the Wool Ballroom. Specifically, Malone acknowledged the protestors standing on the street by saying, “This is no place for hate.” Malone closed the show by telling the audience to lead with love, even when others do not.

     Malone has always believed in leading with love but claims it can be difficult at times. “What we do is not the social norm, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s honestly more protested than anything because it does mess with gender so much. And it’s a huge topic that the country is dealing with, are you binary? And we showcase that [gender] doesn’t exist and that’s hard for some people.”

   Andy Whorehal, another performer, agrees that people’s aversion to drag comes from a place of fear. “I think a lot of people are afraid to not be normal but nobody is actually normal. It’s not necessarily normal to do drag but it’s fun and creative.” 

     For Whorehal, drag is also about self-expression. “When I first saw a drag performer on stage, it was game over. I was like ‘Wow yeah this is what I want to do,’ and I’ve centered my whole life around it and it’s really increased my confidence and comfortability with myself,” he said, “It’s been life-changing.” 

     Malone, however, loves drag for a different reason. “Drag, for me, is an escape from reality. My everyday persona is very quiet and reserved, but as soon as I put everything on, it’s like my super hero moment and I can conquer the world,” she stated.

     Both Malone and Whorehal agree that drag gives them power, and others as well. “You’d be shocked by the number of people who protest us and then they experience it and they’re like ‘well maybe not.’” 

     “It changes your life for the better in so many ways,” Whorehal said.

     Students were encouraged to chat and take pictures with performers after the show. Talk amongst SLU staff after the conclusion of the show indicated a possibility that the drag show may become an annual event.