UW Is Hosting Both A Drag Show And Riley Gaines This Month

Saying the University of Wyoming is committing to make free expression a guiding principle, it’s preparing to host both a drag show at a Matthew Shepard memorial event, and women's rights activist Riley Gaines in the coming month.  

Clair McFarland

October 02, 20236 min read

Collage Maker 02 Oct 2023 05 53 PM 8968
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

It’s a clash of opposites, as the University of Wyoming will host a drag show and a speech by social conservative women’s-rights activist Riley Gaines this month.  

There are critics railing about both events, said UW President Ed Seidel in a Friday statement.  

Chad Baldwin, UW spokesman, told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that conservative commentators have been speaking out against UW hosting a drag show show, while some LGBTQ activists disapprove of the plan to host Riley Gaines, a top collegiate swimmer who now speaks against the inclusion of transgender women in women’s sports.  

But the college is pressing ahead.  

“What I’m sensing from President Seidel is really a commitment to make free expression a guiding principle here at the university,” said Baldwin. “That, I think, just inherently means there’s going to be some controversy.”  

There is no public money going toward either event, except for what’s used generally to maintain UW’s venue locations, Baldwin said.  

Baldwin is not aware of any threats relating to the events, though UW police coordinate rigorously to prepare for all controversial presentations, he said.  

Drag Show First 

The United Multicultural Council, a student organization, has planned a drag show for 7 p.m. Oct. 14, free to the general public at the Wyoming Union Ballroom, second floor.  

The organization did not immediately comment Monday in response to messages from Cowboy State Daily – either to preview its event or to opine on Gaines’ upcoming event.  

The Shepard Symposium is an annual events series UW has hosted for more than two decades that memorializes Matthew Shepard, a gay UW student who was tortured and murdered in 1998. This year’s series theme is social justice literacy, focusing on communications skills, story-telling and literary freedom, according to the event’s website.  

Next, Riley Gaines 

Turning Point USA, which has a student chapter at UW, is featuring Gaines at its “Speak Louder” event 10 days after the drag show, 7 p.m. Oct. 24 at UW’s Agriculture Auditorium.  

The two events are not related. In fact, they’re opposites.

"This event holds a significant place in Turning Point USA's commitment to protecting the rights and opportunities of biological women, particularly in the realm of sports,” wrote a Turning Point USA spokeswoman in an email to Cowboy State Daily.  

The event will focus on challenges and concerns that surface when males compete in women’s sports, the spokeswoman continued, adding: “Allowing biological men to compete in women's sports undermines the hard work and dedication of female athletes and leads to unfair advantages. It also ignores basic biology and science.” 

Gaines is speaking at this event because of her own personal experiences and ability to relate to other students, says the statement.  

Though she stands about one foot shorter than her opponent, Gaines tied for fifth place with transgender swimmer Lia Thomas in the 200-freestyle NCAA race in March 2022. But officials gave the trophy to Thomas. In the months that followed, Gaines became a women’s rights activist.  

Not Because Of This Lawsuit 

When a sorority on UW’s campus inducted a transgender member last autumn, it tested UW’s tolerance for controversial speech.   

UW leaders are now being sued for censoring Todd Schmidt, a Laramie church elder who called out the inductee by name as “a male” Dec. 2, on a sign hanging from Schmidt’s reserved table at the UW Student Union.  

Overriding UW’s arguments that Schmidt’s speech was harassment, a federal judge in August ordered the university to let Schmidt hang that sign, and to let him present in the Union.  

But the university’s decision to host social-conservative speaker Gaines has nothing to do with that order, Baldwin said.   

“Turning Point USA has been bringing conservative speakers to campus for years,” said Baldwin. “There’s never been any issues with that.”  

Liberal Claimed Censorship Before That 

Baldwin noted that left-wing activist Bill Ayers also launched a censorship lawsuit against UW in 2010, when the university cancelled Ayers’ scheduled presentation on campus.  

In that case, UW’s justification that it had safety concerns — possibly in light of Ayers’ participation in the 1970s bombings of the New York City Police Department and the U.S. Capital Building and Pentagon — did not hold up in court.  

A federal judge ordered the school to host Ayers. 

“The bounds of free speech have been tested here,” said Baldwin. “There are two examples in the university’s fairly recent history — one where we were told we have to allow a liberal speaker and one where we had to allow a conservative one.” 

In both cases, judges saw UW’s duty to host variegated speech more broadly than the university did.  

But, Baldwin said, having opposite speakers flock to UW is “nothing new.” He pointed to conservative commentator Dennis Prager’s 2017 presentation on “Why Socialism Makes People Selfish,” and to feminist Marxist activist Angela Davis’ speech in March of this year.  

Riley Gaines Chatting Up UW Women 

Gaines has been in touch with the women who sued the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority over its induction of the transgender member, Gaines told political podcaster Isabel Brown two weeks ago. 

“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” said Gaines, adding that the women are “revamping” their lawsuit, which a federal judge dismissed last month.  

The women have appealed their dismissal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Clair McFarland can be reached at clair@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter