Jesus was Watching: University-Sponsored Drag Performance Takes Place on Chapel Grounds

The Tower

Controversy develops over a University-funded drag show taking place outside and inside the campus chapel. 

On Friday, April 28, 2023, the Student Programming Board and Trinity University Pride jointly hosted a “Drag Brunch” which was located in the courtyard of the Marguerite B. Parker Chapel. Several students sat at tables eating food while drag queens hired from off-campus danced provocatively to raunchy music beneath a statue of Jesus.

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The juxtaposition between the provocative performance and the chapel’s role as a place of prayer and reflection has left students wondering, why the chapel? Of all the places on campus, why did the drag show take place right outside the sacred space used by multiple religious organizations? No matter one’s opinion on drag shows themselves, the choice of location raises eyebrows. The costumes worn by drag performers, their dance style, and the music are objectively vulgar. The show’s proximity to the Chapel comes across as ignorant at best, and blatantly disrespectful at worst. 

Additionally, the drag queens changed into their costumes and got ready inside the chapel. Not only were they performing right outside the building, but they also used the interior of the building, where religious services are held, as a changing room. 

“An Obscene Performance In A Public Space”

Needless to say, the event was not without backlash and did not go over well with religious or conservative students and parents. 

Ellis Jacoby, president of the Trinity Young Conservatives of Texas group, describes his experience encountering the performers in the chapel:

“I was going to class in the back of the chapel, and had stopped to get some water from the water fountain. When I turned around I saw two men changing into stripper clothing and doing makeup in one of the changing rooms of the chapel. I was shocked they were using a sacred space like the chapel for not only to perform their sexually provocative show, but to change in as well. Holding an obscene performance in a public space is wrong, and is indecent exposure. There are often kids or highschoolers on campus, as this is a public campus, and potentially exposing them to what is essentially pornography is criminal in my opinion.”

“The fact that they intentionally chose the chapel was an insult to religious groups on campus, and was obviously intentional by the group hosting the event.”

He also brings up an important point about the funding of the event, which concerns students, parents, and anyone financially involved in the University. 

“The fact that the Trinity Programing board sponsored the event meant, as students, our money went to it, and that it was supported by the administration. I don’t know what Trinity was thinking, but hopefully they are made aware of the obscene and disrespectful nature of what they sponsored, and how many people are displeased with it,” says Jacoby.

As a result of the chapel drag event, many were left confused as to why the University sponsored a divisive “strip show” that does not benefit the campus when they should have been putting the money towards education or improving the quality of life for students.

“Hateful Comments Will Be Deleted”

Controversy around the drag brunch began to develop on TU snaps, the Trinity student snapchat group, after an anonymous user posted concern over the choice of location. Any opinions from anonymous students speaking out against the disrespect for the chapel were insulted on the Snapchat page, a hostility toward alternative viewpoints that illustrates a concerning trend in higher education.

On Tuesday, May 2nd, a Muslim student protested the chapel drag show with a petition and a sign that read “drag shows don’t belong in public spaces”, only to be ridiculed on TU snaps. Ironically, these users are the very people who call themselves tolerant. 

In response, the Trinity University PRIDE Instagram account defended the use of the chapel in an instagram post.

They state that the reason they chose to use the chapel courtyard was because there were “so many other events happening on campus that day” However, students have confirmed that campus had been relatively empty, and that there were plenty of free spaces in other locations. 

The post also fails to explain why the drag queens entered the chapel and used it as a changing room. The reference to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence who “use their faith to serve their communities” is referring to a sacrilegious street performance group that cosplays in religious costumes, including sexualized parodies of the Stations of the Cross and the Virgin Mary.

The drag queens themselves are tagged in other posts by the PRIDE account, and their personal accounts are ridden with explicit images. Regardless of political ideology, these pornographic images cannot be deemed “religious” by any stretch of the imagination, and should have no place on religious grounds whatsoever.

TU Pride concludes by stating in a comment below that “any hateful comments will be deleted”, implying that disagreement equates to hate, and closing the door on any opportunity for discussion.  

The Tower reached out to the Student Programming Board via email, asking about the event-planning process and whether or not religious leaders were contacted. The Tower has not received a response.

This is not the first time that the University has displayed their progressive bias concerning campus events. Earlier in the semester, they made a conservative speaker pay to speak on campus. Hosting a drag show in the chapel is problematic on a whole new level. This decision reveals either complete disregard toward religious groups by the Student Programming Board and University, or something far more intentional.

Methodist Bishop Lectures on Christianity, Race and White Supremacy in America

On Tuesday, Sept. 24, William Willimon, a Methodist Bishop, spoke at Trinity University in Parker Chapel about racism and Christianity. About half of the hour was dedicated to laying out his thesis: that Christians should confess their sins vis-à-vis racism, while the rest was for audience Q&A. 

Willimon first laid out the groundwork for his argument: citing common Christian themes of repentance and flawed human nature. “As sinners, we’re in need of rescue,” he said.. “[It’s] an inclination that’s embedded within us.” As such, Christ came to redeem people and save them from their sins, and that principle defines Christianity. 

Quoting a fellow theologian, Jim Wallis, Willimon argued that “America’s original sin is racism,” using that as a segue to discuss racism and Christianity. Willimon recalled a story when he went to North Carolina for a Methodist conference at 16, where he roomed with a fellow 16-year-old black teenager named Charles. One night during the conference, Willimon and Charles had a long conversation, in which Charles asked Willimon if he ever thought about the injustice of segregation in schools, buses, and other areas of public life. That is when Willimon realized that segregation was wrong, speaking of it as “they keep me in my place, and they keep them in [their] place.” After the conference was over, Willimon was on the path to becoming a racial justice advocate and confronting racism as a preacher.

Race, Willimon acknowledged, is weird for Christians to talk about since it’s not anywhere in the Bible. He argued that race was a product of the Enlightenment, a social construct conveniently concocted at a time when European powers were expanding their colonial empires and slave trades. Thus, racism was a natural product of the justification of the subjugation of people of color, marrying itself with power and bias to structure society in a racial hierarchy, according to Willimon. 

The question remains: how do we respond to this? Willimon turns to Christian teachings, arguing that Christians need to “confess our sins” and speak up when they see a racist incident unfolding in front of them. He also implied that whites were explicitly the target audience of his talk, arguing “My white supremacy is deep within me.”

He did express pessimism at whites owning up to their racism, quoting Ta-Nehisi Coates, an African-American race activist, about “white America never getting truthed.” Willimon framed racism as a “theological test” for Christians that must be defined as a personal problem while also acknowledging that racism is built into the education system, the legal system, and the economy. 

Willimon concluded by advocating for slavery reparations and hypervigilance against racial dog-whistling. “If an issue is about race, it is about race,” he said, referring to the fear over migrant caravans from Central America. In a personal message to people of color, he advised them to “be good at forgiveness” and “stay human in an inhuman situation.” 

Photo by Zachary Neeley.

Pictured: author (L), Rev. Dr. William Willimon (R)