BY Frieze News Desk in News | 02 SEP 19

Republican Congress Candidate Censors Drag Show Due to Performers’ Down Syndrome

Peter Meijer called the performers ‘special souls’ who needed to be ‘protected’

BY Frieze News Desk in News | 02 SEP 19

Performer in Drag Syndrome. Courtesy: Drag Syndrome; photograph: Damien Frost

A Republican candidate for US congress in Michigan has called off a scheduled drag show by Drag Syndrome, a UK-based group of drag performers with Down syndrome. Peter Meijer, who owns the venue in which the troupe was set to perform, said in a letter that he feared the group was being ‘exploited’, and described the performers as ‘special souls’ who needed to be ‘protected.’

Drag Syndrome was set to perform at the opening event for Project 1, the first in a series of public art exhibitions run by ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan. However, Meijer cancelled the event last week after he learned of Drag Syndrome’s involvement in the event. Meijer owns Tanglefoot, the venue in which the performance was scheduled to take place.

In a letter to ArtPrize, Meijer said: ‘The differently abled are among the most special souls in our community, and I believe they, like children and other vulnerable populations, should be protected.’

‘The involvement of individuals whose ability to act of their own volition is unclear raises serious ethical concerns that I cannot reconcile,’ Meijer continued.

Meijer claims that he ‘spoke with parents of the differently abled, people who had family members with Down’s syndrome, and members of the LGBTQ and artist community’ before arriving at his decision.

DisArt, a production company that promotes disabled art culture and organized Drag Syndrome’s performance hit back against Meijer’s decision. In a collective statement, they said: ‘It didn’t matter that these Artists have long-standing, successful, internationally acclaimed careers.’

‘It didn’t matter that the artists are also accomplished actors and filmmakers, painters, dancers, singers and most important of all, human beings. None of that mattered in the decision to exclude their performance. All that mattered was their disability…. Exclusion is discrimination, it is self-preservation, it is exploitation for political gain. It is not protection,’ the statement continued.

Meijer has since responded to DisArt’s statement: ‘The notion that I am discriminating against the disabled is profoundly offensive — DisArt is exploiting individuals with Down syndrome to further an activist message, plain and simple,’ he said in a statement to Fox 17.

Performers on the line-up for the event at Project 1 have since rallied around Drag Syndrome. The Curiosity Theatre have pulled of out the event, saying: ‘We didn’t want to perform on the same stage where someone else had the mic taken away from them.’