Tennessee Tech investigating ‘disturbing’ campus drag show mocking Christianity in front of kids

A drag performer dancing to the song “Take Me to Church” by Irish singer-songwriter Hozier.
A drag performer dancing to the song “Take Me to Church” by Irish singer-songwriter Hozier. | Screenshot / Twitter

Tennessee Tech University is investigating a recent on-campus drag show that allegedly mocked Christianity and exposed kids to explicit activity. The school’s president has canceled two similar upcoming shows, saying he is “disturbed and dismayed."

The school’s action comes after a video posted to social media showed a drag performer dancing suggestively to the song “Take Me to Church” by Irish singer-songwriter Hozier and making the sign of the cross. He then removes his brown cloak to reveal a corset-type outfit underneath.

The drag show, which was held at the on-campus Backdoor Playhouse last month and sponsored by the group Upper Cumberland Pride, “had little kids handing cash to the drag queen who was performing a dance clearly meant to mock Christians,” anti-human-trafficking advocate Landon Starbuck said on Twitter.

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“Every parent who pays to send their kids to @tennesseetech deserves to know that this is what they’re allowing on campus,” she added.

Bill Donohue, president of the civil rights group Catholic League, wrote to the school's president, Phil Oldham, criticizing the show.

“Backstage Playhouse bills itself as an organization that fosters ‘creativity, critical thinking, excellence, and professionalism through the integration of courses, productions, workshops, and other activities,’” Donohue wrote. “Why, then, would it be home to an anti-Catholic event?”

Oldham issued a statement responding to Donohue and others who criticized the school online.

“All students, faculty, and staff deserve care and consideration, as well as representation and respect. The investigation focuses on the inappropriate involvement of minors and a review of our policies and procedures,” he wrote.

Oldham said he doesn't believe "the activities in the video represent Tech’s values" and doesn't "condone explicit activity where minors are present."

"I also am offended by disparaging mockery toward any religious group,” he continued. “To be clear, this was not a university sponsored event. No university funds were used. Two registered student groups facilitated the scheduling and promotion of the event. Although registered student organizations have the ability to reserve space on campus, the programming should not include obscene, lewd, or explicit activities.”

In a statement, Upper Cumberland Pride denied the “accusations.”

“Our hope is to resolve this misunderstanding with the university and continue to educate the community about our organization and the LGBTQIA+ community,” the group wrote on Facebook.

“The performer in question never presented themselves as a member of the clergy and did not speak against any religion, including Christianity. The performer also had multiple layers of clothing on, and was covered from neck to toe in fabric, even after the costume change.”

The nonpartisan civil liberties organization Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression expressed on Twitter that student groups "unquestionably" have a First Amendment "right to host offensive, lewd, and even explicit events."

"They definitely have the right to put on plays featuring drag queens and criticizing religion," a tweet from FIRE reads. "Tennessee Tech administrators would do well to remember they’re U.S. government employees – not literal kings or queens. Government entities are legally bound by the Constitution to respect student groups’ — and drag queens’ — free speech rights."

A TTU senior told The Daily Wire: “A lot of people weren’t aware that this is something that is part of our city now, in a way. I don’t think anybody really knew that this was such an active culture, or whatever drag is. But we didn’t realize they were performing quite frequently on campus and what their target audience has been. It’s disturbing.”

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