Drag Performance in Clement Auditorium on Wednesday Ricky Birchfield | The All State

On Wednesday, campus police flank two entrances to Austin Peay’s Clement Building.

The doors opened at 7 p.m. for an event in the Clement auditorium, and students attending need their state ID checked at the door.

Once inside, it’s hard to tell why.

Attendees are talking excitedly, discussing the performance they’re about to watch. The need for a police presence is unclear, until the first drag queen takes the stage. 

Austin Peay’s Sexuality and Gender Alliance cosponsored the spring drag show with the Peacemakers, a student organization that aims to create a more peaceful and kind environment on campus.

According to Zac Moore, who helped students sign into the event via APSU’s PeayLink, around 174 people attended.

The air was electric, but the elephant in the room was Tennessee’s House Bill 9. 

According to the Tennessee General Assembly’s summary of the bill, it “creates an offense for a person who engages in an adult cabaret performance on public property or in a location where the adult cabaret performance could be viewed by a person who is not an adult.” The bill also includes male and female impersonators under its definition of cabaret performers.

SAGA’s faculty advisor, Marcus Hayes, sees campus drag shows as representation of the queer community on campus. As chair of Austin Peay’s department of Theatre and Dance, Hayes also notes the artistic statement behind them, saying it was contradictory that a campus with free speech requirements could have to deny a form of expression. 

Peacemakers president Andrew “Flowers” Fowler said they believed the bill’s definitions were intentionally pointed, saying “Obscenity in front of children was already illegal, so for them to specifically target ‘men who dress like women’ and vice versa, I think it was very specific targeting towards the drag and transgender community.”

If students attending the event were tacitly aware of the subversive element, those holding it were overtly aware.

Carl Button, SAGA’s vice president, said that while the organization has put on a drag show every year possible, this year felt particularly important. The event came just three days before Saturday, April 1, the effective date of the House Bill 9.

When asked if the shows would be unable to continue on campus, Hayes said he thought they might continue eventually, but that future performances would be predicated on evaluation of the bill and its definitions.

“It’s going to be a bit until people figure out how to interact with the law,” said Hayes.

Event organizers continuously mentioned the sense of community for LGBTQ students, something they are unlikely to give up on pursuing Saturday.