Spectrum WT v. Walter Wendler: President Cancels Student-Organized Drag Show, Citing Religion, Natural Rights, and Intent to Violate the First Amendment, if Need Be


West Texas A&M University

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Case Overview

Spectrum WT v. Wendler - Verified Amended Complaint

On March 20, 2023, Walter Wendler, the president of West Texas A&M University, abruptly canceled a drag show that a student group — Spectrum WT, an organization for LGBTQ+ students and their allies — was planning to hold at the public university.  In an email (also posted on his personal blog) to students, faculty, and staff, Wendler denounced drag shows as “slapstick” intended to “denigrate and demean women.” Wendler said he would “not appear to condone” such speech, “even when the law of the land appears to require it.”

Wendler’s censorship of a student organization’s expressive conduct violated the First Amendment rights of Spectrum WT and its members. Drag shows, as with other forms of theater, are forms of expression that government officials — like administrators of public universities — can’t suppress just because they find them offensive. 

On March 24, 2023, FIRE filed a lawsuit on behalf of Spectrum WT and two of its student leaders, Barrett “Bear” Bright and Lauren “Laur” Stovall. The lawsuit asks a federal court to ensure Wendler does what the “law of the land” requires — allow WTAMU students to express themselves without fear of censorship.

Update: On September 21, 2023, the district court denied our clients' motion for a preliminary injunction and dismissed their damages claim against President Wendler. FIRE is appealing the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and will keep fighting for free expression alongside Spectrum WT and its members.