Kings, Queens, and Rosaries: Protesters can’t pray away PRIDE
Brooklyn Dippo | News Editor
Last Thursday hundreds of students and visitors crowded into Shiley Theatre to see the PRIDE club’s sold-out show, Celebration of Gender Expression: Supreme Drag Superstar V. On the sidewalk outside, a much smaller group prayed in protest of the event.
The University of San Diego was founded by the Catholic Diocese of San Diego in 1949, but despite its religious affiliation labels itself as a Changemaker campus that encourages diversity and inclusion. In 1990 USD recognized its first community of LGBTQ and allied students, which grew into the PRIDE community that is currently active on campus.
The community met many milestones on campus, such as getting LGBTQ-themed courses approved, changing campus policies to have gender-inclusive and sexuality-inclusive terminology, hosting workshops for students, and even putting on a dance for USD students. The event that has incurred the most backlash is the annual student drag performance.
The PRIDE website describes the purpose of the event as educating the community on gender identity and expression.
“At this “edu-tainment” event for the campus community, speakers teach about the experiences of trans- and gender-fluid communities, including the prevalence of violence, while students entertain with light-hearted lip-sync and astounding choreography,” the website states.
Hundreds of USD students enjoy the show every year and see it as a safe community for exploring gender expression. Junior Sophia Gaffney went to see both her friends and her professor, Greg Prieto, dressed in drag.
“I thought the show was great!” Gaffney said. “One of my professors dressed up in drag and gave a killer speech. I think it’s so important for young adults in the LGBTQ realm who are struggling to see an older faculty member embracing their sexuality and standing strong in who they are. That was a moving moment.”
Gaffney also shared her personal views on gender expression.
“I am all about breaking gender norms,” Gaffney said. “Don’t get me wrong, if it is your personality or character to fit a certain stereotype or expectation of gender then by all means fit it! Gender expression to me is individual case by case but if you desire to push the boundaries and break the norms of gender then go for it, hell yeah!”
After attending the drag show last year and realizing there were few drag kings, Junior Chelsea McLin signed up to be a performer this year and learned a lot about her own gender identity. She is a cisgendered female, meaning that her gender identity aligns with her sex, so she stepped out of her comfort zone to dress up as a man.
“I’m a cisgender female so dressing in drag was a first-time experience,” McLin said. “I don’t feel the hardships of someone who wants to dress as a gender they weren’t assigned at birth, but being in the drag show was a rewarding and educational experience for me. It’s definitely scary to dress in drag, so I give kudos to those who have courage to be their authentic selves every day. To me it seems that people find more entertainment value when a man dresses in a wig and a skirt, like they can poke more fun of it and take the seriousness out of it. At the same rate, transwomen are highly marginalized due to messed up social constructions of masculinity.”
Though it is widely enjoyed, not everyone agrees with the idea of a Catholic university hosting a drag show. The week leading up to the show there was a petition against the event circulating online. USD alumni and San Diego lawyer Charles LiMandri hosts the website Alumni For A Catholic USD and gathers signatures each year in an attempt to stop the drag show. Though he wasn’t in attendance, another vocal member of the Catholic Church was.
Thomas McKenna, the president and founder of Catholic Action for Faith and Family, has attended every drag show not for the entertainment but to support Catholic USD students who are offended by it. After attending the very first Supreme Drag Superstar, McKenna filed a suit with the Vatican to get the Church to prohibit further drag shows on Catholic college campuses. The Church concluded that it was a scandal and McKenna has continued to attend and protest against the show since.
“I originally came [to the drag show] at the request of students here that felt this was out of touch with the reality of their Catholic faith so I was asked to come help them, support them, and attend the presentation,” McKenna said. “So I would say that because the clarity of the Catholic Church’s teachings on the issues of the LGBT homosexual activity is not clarified in either way, that some students could leave here thinking that the Church is okay with that. And that is something that I’ve consistently said is that I believe that this event leads some people away from the truth of the Catholic Church.”
A reparation rosary was held on the sidewalk in front of Camino Hall. Nine people gathered to say the Novena to Divine Mercy, eight from the local Catholic community and one USD student. The prayer is usually said in segments over a period of nine days before a feast in request for mercy from the Lord.
Sophomore Nick Norita kneeled in prayer, tears falling from his eyes. Two of his friends who passed by during the rosary stopped for a moment to comfort him and pray with him.
“They’re all good people,” Norita said. “They are my brothers and sisters. I do love them very much and I understand if they don’t see it. My Church is a Church of love but if the message is heard or seen in the wrong way that can be hard to understand.”
Later Norita explained why he disagrees with the drag show.
“We take a high view of what sex is for [in the Catholic Church]. If we use sex in a way that is not what it was made for, then it is sinful. I wanted to be a face that showed the real love and compassion behind an often difficult to understand teaching. The drag show should not be on campus. The show promotes as good what the church sees as the misuse of sexuality. Sin can mean ‘missing the mark’ and to promote a missing of the mark is not something that should be a part of the Catholic education.”
The protesters mostly kept to themselves, only voicing their concern when local media asked for interviews. They were drastically outnumbered by the people there to support the show.
Maddie Kasik, the president of PRIDE, explained that the community anticipates protesters at the event and respectfully disagrees with them. PRIDE encourages people in attendance to respect the protesters’ opinions.
“Each year on the Wednesday before PRIDE’s Celebration of Gender Expression: Supreme Drag Superstar, PRIDE gets together at a general body meeting and discusses the significance of the event, why it is important to us, and what have been some challenges we have faced,” Kasik said. “During this meeting, we engage in a dialogue about how, even though we may not agree with what the protesters are saying, PRIDE members should respect the protester’s right to express their own opinions. PRIDE deals with the protesters at the event by standing in solidarity with one another and demonstrating our open support and celebration of gender expression and gender identity.”
Even with widespread support for the event, there is still some sentiment of unequal treatment towards the event. Junior Crash Ketcham, the winner of Supreme Drag Superstar V, dances in almost every USD event and has participated in PRIDE’s drag show the past three years.
“USD staff and administration have done a remarkable job dealing with the hundreds of phone calls, emails, and handwritten letters demanding the removal of the drag show,” Ketcham said.
Ketcham acknowledges administration’s full support of the drag show and thinks that it is time for USD to allow photographs and videos of the event to be shared by the performers and community.
“Administration supports the show wholeheartedly, but won’t allow videos to be released in the event that it’s taken out of context or falls into the hands of people who disagree,” Ketcham said. “I just don’t think it’s going to be any different with or without the videos. Whether we have the videos or not, administration is going to get a ton of flack, so why not just have the videos? And also, it’s the right thing to do. It’s not fair that I can have all these videos [dancing at USD events] except the drag show.”
The drag show has no signs of stopping at USD as it sells out quicker and quicker each year. PRIDE has responded to their critics with inclusivity and acceptance, and gives students a forum to express whichever gender they choose.