Tennessee Technological University: President Punishes Student Groups Over Drag Show


Tennessee Technological University

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Case Overview

On August 20, 2022, Tennessee Technological University’s Backdoor Playhouse held a drag show hosted by Upper Cumberland Pride, a local LGBTQ+ rights advocacy organization, and two university-recognized student groups, Lambda Gay-Straight Alliance and Tech Players. On September 7, a spliced video of the show prompted condemnation online. The next day, Tennessee Tech President Philip Oldham canceled the student groups’ scheduled events and launched an investigation of the event because he was“disturbed and dismayed” by the drag show, which he claimed did not “represent Tech’s values.” On September 15, FIRE sent Tennessee Tech a letter explaining that the First Amendment protects student groups’ expressive events, and calling on it to reinstate their events and to end its investigation into protected expression.

After the university’s general counsel promised a quick end to its investigation in September, the ban on the group’s events persisted, resulting in the university canceling several events in October. On October 26, FIRE called on Tennessee Tech to immediately end this continuing violation of the groups’ First Amendment rights.  

The university lifted the ban in January 2023 and also imposed new restrictions on student groups hosting campus events and cosponsoring events with outside groups.