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Drag returns to JCU following five year hiatus

After much deliberation for some and pushback for others, the “Gender as Power and Performance” educational event invited drag performers to share their stories and put on a show.
Rebecca Kilmer
Allies Club, faculty and staff gather with the performers for a picture after the show.

Despite pushback, on April 5, JCU held its first drag show since 2019. Due to the controversy surrounding this event, expressed by both students and members of the community, this was no easy feat to achieve.

While this event was the first of its kind in recent years, drag shows are not new to JCU. Drag shows have occurred on campus annually from as far back as 2013 (until the cancellation in 2019), and were organized by Allies, SUPB and CSDI with the support of students and alumni.

Rebecca Kilmer ‘24, the former president of JCU’s Allies club who continued to help plan the event past her term, was able to share more about the planning for this event and ultimately how its organizers were able to overcome the pressure from the community to cancel the event.

“It was a massive collaborative, institutional effort, with staff, faculty and administrative involvement. We reached out to departments to get their sponsorship, IT for lighting, display and sound [and] faculty members to serve as panelists. We had to coordinate their schedules with that of the performers, had multiple rough drafts of the flyer and so much more.”

As mentioned, this event had to cross many hurdles in order to be held. Specifically, the event had to be postponed from February to April due to initial pushback on the basis that this was not an academic event and that the panel section of the event needed to be on the same night as the show.

“We tried to have it in January but were advised to postpone it to create a more rigorous, academic event, not only to make it more successful but to give it more protection as well. If it is an academic event, it is protected by academic freedom. At the time, the Allies board and I were not aware of how involved the faculty were with the show in 2019 or what ‘academic’ looked like beyond a Q&A,” shared Kilmer.

Kilmer also shared how the organizers of the event dealt with public criticism, especially the petition that was created to urge JCU’s president to cancel the event and other comments made online.

“The staff and faculty that worked with us were a great source of support in face of pushback. We were anxious and disheartened, especially with the TFP petition. We were also keeping track of all the comments on Yik Yak, some of which were really cruel and misinformed. Yet, even with all the pressure, the administration stood by us and the event, which was not exactly the case in 2019. I appreciate the administration for taking on the heat and giving the event a chance.”

While this event created lots of controversy, it also must be noted that there was much support for the event as well. The night of the actual event itself, the energy of the Marinello Little Theater was electric.

Outside the theater, tables were full of refreshments, including drinks, fresh popcorn and other snacks as well as LGBTQ+ themed stickers and flags. In addition, music was blasting over the speakers, with songs from artists such as ABBA and Dua Lipa generating excitement among the audience. And last but not least, gold streamers fell from the doors leading into the fully packed event, welcoming all of the JCU community.

As the academic portion of the night began, themes of inclusivity and education were maintained as students were able to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community and drag shows, with presentations from Doctor Shaun Burton and Doctor Joe Krivos, both of the counseling department, Doctor Malia McAndrews of the history department and Doctor Dianna Taylor of the philosophy department. The titles of their speeches can be found here.

Paige Smith ‘26 shared her thoughts on the academic presentations, stating, “As someone who is not a part of the LGBTQ+ community, I felt completely welcomed and included throughout the educational event. I was able to learn so many new things about the community.”

Following the presentations, the show began. Performers included drag queens Monica Lexin and Joliee Blak as well as drag king Ryder Slowly. Each performed to one song, complete with costume changes and crowd engagement. Students were clapping, shouting and smiling with excitement during each performance.

To conclude the night, a Q&A session was held with the panelists as well as the drag queens and king. Questions ranged from topics of how the performers chose their names to the sexualization of drag to how professors address LGBTQ+ students in their classroom.

Looking to the future of drag shows at JCU, Kilmer shared her hopes.

“We absolutely want it to be an annual event like it was in the past. As far as I know, next year folks want to try and go through Student Life, similar to how it was done pre-2019 and give that process a try. I would say this year’s drag show was very successful and the administration [was] supportive, so I am hopeful!”

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About the Contributor
Bella Congelio
Bella Congelio, Opinion Editor
Bella Congelio is a sophomore English major from Elyria, Ohio. She has a concentration in professional writing and is minoring in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. In addition to being a campus beat reporter for The Carroll News, she is a member of the Sweet Carrollines and the Theater Club. In her free time, Bella is always reading a book, loves to cook and bake, and is always listening to music.

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