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Mount Mercy president cancels student-organized drag show, amidst promises for more ‘compassion’ towards LGBTQ community

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Illustration by Glen Lowry

Update, April 26: A drag show with the same performers, scheduled for May 3 at 7 p.m., has been announced with Rich Heritage of Cedar Rapids Theatre as the host and venue. The event is free with a $5 suggested donation. Proceeds will still benefit Iowa Safe Schools.

A May 3 drag show and fundraiser organized by members of the Mount Mercy University Student Government Association (SGA) and LGBTQ+ Alliance Club was canceled Wednesday morning by university president Laurie Hamen.

In an email to Mount Mercy (MMU) students, staff and alumni, Hamen suggested the drag show would not have been respectful to the Cedar Rapids university’s “Catholic heritage” and “stakeholders.” MMU is a Catholic liberal arts university, affiliated with the Sisters of Mercy, a Roman Catholic order of nuns, as well as the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

SGA President Cassie Noel, a junior at MMU, was one of the first people to learn of Hamen’s decision, along with two other students and the SGA and Alliance Club advisers, who met with the MMU president Wednesday morning.

“She explained that holding this drag show would make a very large and controversial statement about our campus,” Noel said. “Hamen said that the Board of Trustees and MMU’s stakeholders did not like the idea. These people are essentially all old and conservative and probably don’t know the history of drag, the LGBT community or have even experienced a drag show.”

The show was set to take place at the Betty Cherry Heritage Hall, a MMU campus building, and was billed as a first-annual event. Drag queens Beep Beep, Hazy Buchanan and Jackie Frost were set to perform, with drag king Lil Ronnie hosting. Proceeds from the event (tickets cost $2-3) would have benefited Iowa Safe Schools, a nonprofit advocating for LGBTQ students.

“At Mount Mercy we are learning what a truly compassionate academic and community environment could be for our LGBTQ+ community. We do not exemplify Mercy values perfectly yet,” Hamen wrote in her email announcing the drag show’s cancellation.

“I want to have every opportunity for deeply beneficial dialogue about mutual respect for the mission of and people of Mount Mercy, and with many stakeholders, a drag show makes this more difficult,” the email continued.

“I felt hurt,” Noel said, “not only as the person that planned [the drag show], but also a member of the LGBT community. After speaking to many other supporters of the show, a lot of people are hurt and don’t feel like they can feel safe and be themselves on this campus.”

Noel said LGBTQ students at MMU are generally welcomed and accepted by their peers, as well as by faculty and staff. It is the administration, she said, that isn’t responding to the needs of these students.

Hamen’s office was met with controversy earlier this month after an email to faculty discussing MMU’s Safe Zone policies was circulated on social media. Safe Zone is a free online resource for schools across the U.S., offering training for faculty and staff on LGBTQ issues.

The email read, in part, “My position on Safe Zone hasn’t changed since the program began — in order to do a SZ program at MMU — we would offer it in a distinctly Mercy and Catholic context, true to the religious diversity we have as a campus community.”

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The email went on to offer faculty stock responses, written by the campus pastor, to deliver to LGBTQ students seeking guidance. One read, in part, “Human sexuality is a beautiful gift of God, which like all God’s gifts, is meant to fulfill a plan. Man and woman are by nature oriented to one another. Their otherness and originality allow reciprocity and integration.”

Another scripted response said, “Sex constitutes a natural and biological characteristic; it is not a cultural option, nor a ‘free’ personal choice.”

Members of the MMU community were quick to call out these positions as homophobic, transphobic and dangerous. Responding to the backlash, Hamen announced she would reevaluate the university’s Safe Zone training. It is set to relaunch by the end of the semester.

Noel said she is optimistic about this new direction, and eager to see tolerance for Mount Mercy’s LGBTQ students grow into acceptance.

“The initial goal of planning the drag show was to celebrate the LGBT community, the support for the community and also the continuation of the Safe Zone training,” Noel said. “It’s almost like [administrators] are saying, ‘OK, we will have Safe Zone training and an LGBT club, but anything more than that would be too gay.’”

Noel said the SGA is planning to hold an advocacy and education panel on May 3 “where faculty, staff and students within the LGBT community will be able to discuss, ask questions, etc.,” as a replacement for the drag show. SGA and the Alliance Club are also in contact with local businesses Noel said are “willing to help us get our point across.”

“I think the LGBT community still needs to be celebrated in a joyful way rather than protest in anger,” she said. “Yes, I am angry, as I know many others are, but I don’t think a protest would benefit this advocacy.”

Little Village has reached out to President Hamen’s office for comment, and will update the story if we receive a response.

Below is the full text of Hamen’s April 24 email:

Dear Campus Community:

Last Friday the Student Government Association (SGA) and Alliance Club distributed a flyer announcing a drag show on campus to be held on May 3. Earlier today I spoke to the students involved to inform them that the drag show will not be held on campus as planned.

At Mount Mercy we are learning what a truly compassionate academic and community environment could be for our LGBTQ+ community. We do not exemplify Mercy values perfectly yet. We are committed to the value of every human person in our distinct Mercy context and to ensuring that every person has an educational context of mutual respect, compassion and success. We also function in the context of our Sisters of Mercy and Catholic heritage, so respect for all of these aspects of our campus community is crucial to our success as an institution. I want to have every opportunity for deeply beneficial dialogue about mutual respect for the mission of and people of Mount Mercy, and with many stakeholders, a drag show makes this more difficult.

I realize that this may be hard news to hear. My sincere hope is that rather than dividing our community, a fuller, more robust conversation will take place on the best ways to support the LGBTQ+ community at Mount Mercy. Face-to-face conversation will likely provide the most beneficial dialogue on these issues and organized opportunities to do that will be available shortly to all.

Some of you may ask why it took so long to cancel the show. I truly wanted to understand all the matters surrounding the event and consult with many important stakeholders, including the club advisors and the students, before making the decision I did. The Safe Zone training program relaunch before the close of the school year also took priority.

As always, if you have any questions please call my office at 319-368-6464. I will also speak to the faculty, staff and SGA at their respective meetings over the next few weeks.

Laurie Hamen, J.D.
President


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Comments:

  1. This reminds me of I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. The author, Austin Channing Brown, talks about how people use conversations and trainings as a way to say an organization supports diversity. However, the organization does not actually support diversity. It likes how it looks on paper with pictures of minority students or the number of diverse committees however they fail to truly understand and promote active diversity.

    We continue to ask minorities to wait. To wait for us to become more compassionate. To wait for us to get more comfortable with otherness. To give us more time and then we be more accepting or understanding. No more waiting. We need more action. Action is true compassion.

  2. I think that if a university or institution wishes to plan or cancel events on their property, they have a right to. Anyone who says that “oh, you aren’t compassionate because you don’t support xyz and aren’t willing to conform to their wishes” is ridiculous.

    If people don’t feel “safe” then don’t go there. Simplest choice is to not go to a place that you don’t feel safe at. I have an issue with people choosing to go to a place that they know doesn’t agree with their beliefs and then want them to change to fit their preferences.

    It is not kind or compassionate to force some to do what you want or believe what you believe. You shouldn’t need a “safe space” to feel safe. You should go to places you know are safe.

    My simple suggestion is don’t go to a place that you don’t consider safe and demand that they conform to your will and provide you a “safe space”

  3. “You should go to places you know are safe”????

    So I guess Rosa Parks should have kept walking to the back of the bus??

  4. Parents and alums need to complain and withhold donations. That’s where the changes will occur.

  5. This is exactly what this university needed. The previous culture on the campus is not what the sisters of mercy would have wanted. There are no “safe zones” in life. Remember when college was supposed to be a break from reality? Unfortunately many have made it the NEW reality. So sad..

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