Controversy has erupted in Grand Rapids, Michigan, after a congressional candidate disallowed a venue he owned to be used for an art exhibition where a drag show featuring performers with Down syndrome was initially scheduled.
As part of the Project 1 exhibitions for the Art Prize arts festival that takes place every other year in the western Michigan city, the London-based “Drag Syndrome” — a troupe of drag performers who have Down syndrome — was slated to perform at Tanglefoot Building, owned by congressional candidate Peter Meijer, a Republican running for the seat currently held by Justin Amash. Earlier this year, Amash left the Republican party to become an Independent.
According to the Detroit Free Press Friday, Meijer explained that he barred the exhibition from his venue because the performers’ “ability to act of their own volition is unclear” and that he did not know if they “are giving, or in a position to give, full and informed consent” to participate in a drag show.
In a Thursday complaint to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union asserted that Meijer had unlawfully discriminated against people with disabilities, arguing that he had relied on harmful stereotypes about such persons.
DisArt, the local arts group that booked the drag troupe and arranged for their participation in the arts festival, reportedly gave Meijer information about individual performers, saying they understood what they were doing. The ACLU is also demanding that Meijer pay for the costs associated with Drag Syndrome having to perform at another performance venue.
“He makes an assumption about people with disabilities, in this case Down Syndrome, that they lack the agency and capacity to understand what it means to perform drag and give informed consent to perform drag,” said Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU’s LGBT Project.
The congressional candidate stood by his decision, telling the outlet that his concerns about the risks were shared by advocates for the disabled.
“I did what’s right, and I’m not going to back down from that or apologize for it,” he said.
Meijer is planning on challenging the ACLU’s complaint.
The drag show has been rescheduled at another venue, the Wealthy Theatre, and a Saturday evening performance is now slated to occur and reportedly sold out.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Brandon Showalter