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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

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Madison East High School postpones student-organized drag show due to safety concerns

Madison East High School postponed a student-organized drag show following backlash from prominent conservative figures on social media, which led to threats against the school district.

A student-organized drag show at Madison East High School was postponed after conservative backlash on social media led to safety concerns surrounding the event. 

The drag show, initially planned for Jan. 19, was organized and planned by the school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance. East High Principal Mikki Smith described the event as a “family-friendly drag show intended to celebrate, affirm and support EHS students and staff in [their] LGBTQIA+ as well as [the] larger school community.”

The school and the event received backlash after a popular conservative Twitter account, “Libs of TikTok,” posted a screenshot of an East High newsletter promoting the event. The original tweet received over 1.5 million views and over one thousand retweets, including one from former Republican Governor Scott Walker, who compared the event to a “strip show” which is “particularly wrong at schools.”

Madison Metropolitan School District spokesperson Timothy LeMonds described the decision to postpone the event as “pretty cut and dry” due to messages received by the school and the district that raised concerns about the safety of both students and faculty. He said the school district was overwhelmed by the number of threatening messages and could not coordinate with local law enforcement to create an adequate safety plan.

“Even more concerning was what we were seeing being said on social media,” LeMonds said in a statement. “Everything collectively just rose the security level quite dramatically. Now we're talking about folks who are calling for protest and disruption outside the borders of Wisconsin.”

“Libs of TikTok,” run by former real estate agent Chaya Raichik, currently has 1.8 million followers. The account repeatedly faced temporary suspensions from Twitter for targeting members of the LGBTQIA+ community, as well as educators and healthcare professionals who provide gender-affirming care.

This is not the first time that “Libs of TikTok” has targeted and criticized a high school drag event in Wisconsin. In April 2022, the account posted a video of a teacher at Middleton High School performing a drag routine during a staff talent show, calling it “sickening.” 

“Libs of TikTok” received a seven-day suspension from Twitter in October after criticizing UW Health for their gender services program. The account posted a thread targeting a UW Health surgeon for providing gender-affirming procedures to minors with parental consent. The account has been suspended multiple times on various platforms, including Twitter and TikTok, for inciting hateful comments and violent threats.

While LeMonds did not specify the nature of these safety concerns, he said postponing the event is necessary to further assess the risks and reevaluate their safety plan to keep students and faculty safe. 

“We’re a school district that prioritizes safety,” LeMonds said. “We felt from the time that this went viral to the time that the event was scheduled, we were not going to be able to work with law enforcement and develop a true comprehensive safety plan within that short period of time.”

LeMonds said though students and faculty were disappointed by the postponement, they understood the district’s decision.

“I think there's a lot of disappointment because there are a lot of people, students, staff and even family members who are really looking forward to that event,” LeMonds said. “But I think in general, people were very understanding and appreciative that we were prioritizing student safety.”

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Madison East senior Ry Feiner, a member of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance, told WKOW she hopes the school will be able to continue hosting drag shows and other events for LGBTQ+ students. 

“I hope this does not hinder the ability for us to continue hosting these events in the future,” Feiner said. “Whether it be drag shows or other queer events of any kinds, none of these things should be endangered.”

LeMonds said organizers have yet to find a new date for the show, but a decision will be announced within the next two weeks.

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