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Critics berate regents about drag show, senator pledges to bring legislation

RAPID CITY, SD – After the leader of the state’s university system announced “process improvements” in response to controversy about a recent drag show, critics denounced the handling of the show and a state senator pledged legislation to address it.

The show took place Nov. 16 at South Dakota State University in Brookings. Some commenters on social media praised the show, while others criticized the university for allowing it and criticized advertising that described the show as “kid friendly.”

Brian Maher, executive director of the Board of Regents, addressed the controversy Thursday during a board meeting at South Dakota Mines in Rapid City. He said his comments were meant to address “numerous calls and many conversations.”

“The first point to make is that we follow state law and we do not – cannot – discriminate against student organizations based on the content or viewpoint of their expressive activity,” Maher said. “Access to and use of facilities on our campuses is equally available to all.”

Maher acknowledged “miscommunication and angst around how this event was marketed.” It should be clear when an event is sponsored by a student organization rather than the university itself, he said. The drag show was sponsored by the student-run Gender & Sexualities Alliance.

“New protocol will make it clear when an event is being put on by a student organization in accordance with state law,” Maher said, “and when an event is being sponsored and put on by the university. That is a significant distinction that didn’t happen during this event.”

Later, during the public comment portion of Thursday’s meeting, numerous speakers criticized the drag show, drawing applause from a crowd of dozens behind them. Some pressed the board to support policy or law changes that would disallow future drag shows on university campuses.

One of the speakers, state Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller, R-Rapid City, said “we do have plans to bring some bills before the Legislature this year to address this kind of thing.”

“This is absolutely sick, especially when families bring children,” Frye-Mueller said.

No one associated with the drag show or SDSU addressed the board about the show. Board President Pam Roberts eventually ended the public comment period, and the board moved on to other agenda items without any discussion or action on the drag show.

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