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Texas A&M’s Drag Show Controversially Plays to a Sellout Crowd

Despite official condemnation, students raised $10,000 to continue the LGBTQ celebration.

A&M senior Jessie B Darling was crowned as the 2022 Queen of Draggieland (photo via Facebook)

In spite of significant pushback, a popular LGBTQ student event returned to Texas A&M this month.

Draggieland, an annual drag event based in College Station, took place at Rudder Theatre on April 18. Despite losing campus funding in August, the show was still a sold-out success. 

“I’m very, very excited by how the event went,” says Frey Miller, president of the LGBTQ A&M organization Transcend TAMU and the advocacy chair for Draggieland. “The fact that it sold out is a testament to the talent and the support of the LGBTQ community and our allies.”

Draggieland, which is now in its third year, began in 2020 amidst protests from anti-LGBTQ students. During its first year, 1,800 students signed a petition claiming the event would foster a “climate of degradation” on campus. The next year, 20,000 students signed the same petition. 

Those events sold out both years, even as protestors stood outside the theater each time. A&M’s Memorial Student Center (MSC) had been hosting the shows and supplying university money to cover upfront costs. This year, MSC was informed that it could no longer sponsor the event, and that any attempt to do so could result in “possible termination of staff,” according to MSC Town Hall Chair Bradin Henselka. 

“I wasn’t surprised, but I was disappointed,” says Miller. “They claimed, after the fact, that they expected Draggieland to become self-sufficient, but there was no documentation concerning the decision and there had been no communication prior to making it.” 

In prior years, Draggieland brought in national drag queens like RuPaul’s Drag Race alums Mo Heart and Alyssa Edwards, while local entertainers vied for the title of Queen of Draggieland. Without the upfront funding for travel expenses, organizers this year focused on local talent. 

LGBTQ organizations such as TRANSCEND, Out in STEM, LGBT Aggies, and Makeup Artists Aggies stepped in to keep the show afloat. Six performers were selected through auditions to compete in the program. Jessie B Darling, an A&M senior who performed in the previous two shows, was crowned as the 2022 Queen of Draggieland and told the audience, “Performing for you guys for the third year in a row means the absolute world to me. If you are a guy or a girl or anything in between, you can do drag.”

The executives of Draggieland

“They pulled out all the stops,” Miller says. “Besides being incredibly entertaining, the contestants talked about what drag means to them. It brought a spotlight not just to the community, but to the discrimination we face.” 

Despite making pro-equality progress, A&M is no stranger to fostering a climate of discrimination. In 1976, the university was sued after it refused to officially recognize the Gay Student Services Organization, on the grounds that homosexuality was illegal in Texas. Ultimately, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the students in 1984, saying the university had denied them their First Amendment rights.

Last year, the university hosted an exhibit Coming Out Together to Share Our History: LGBTQIA+ Collections in College Station, Houston, and Beyond at Cushing Memorial Library and Archives. Today, there are several LGBTQ groups on campus, including a Pride Community Center.  

This year’s Draggieland team was able to raise more than $10,000 to put on the extravagant drag show. They also sold an additional $1,500 in merchandise on Monday night. 

“We could not be happier,” says Miller. “The proceeds are going to create a new organization on campus called the Queer Empowerment Council that, among other things, will be home to Draggieland next year.” 

Miller fully intends to continue his involvement with Draggieland, and hopes it will become an enduring A&M tradition.

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and, among others.
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