Republican congressional candidate Peter Meijer is facing criticism for banning drag performers with down syndrome from performing at his building.
Meijer sent a letter to Project 1 on August 19 detailing why he decided to not allow Drag Syndrome, a British-based performance group where people with down syndrome perform in drag, to appear at Project 1 at the Tanglefoot on September 7. Project 1 is a public art exhibition put on by ArtPrize from September 7 to October 27 where sculptures, performances and community-oriented projects can be seen.
“This is not a decision I have arrived at lightly, As the nature of Drag Syndrome’s performance became clear, I consulted with various relevant communities to ensure my decision was made as free of personal bias as possible. I spoke with parents of the differently abled, people who had family members with down syndrome, and members of the LGBTQ and artist community. In nearly every conversation, concerns were raised about the potential exploitation of the vulnerable,” Meijer wrote.
With this in mind, Meijer decided that neither he nor the audience can know if the individuals performing for Drag Syndrome “are giving, or are in a position to give, their full and informed consent.”
DisArt, an organization that encourages people with disabilities to perform in the arts, leaked Meijer’s letter this week. The organization reacted Thursday to Meijer’s decision.
In their statement, the organizers of Drag Syndrome said they were appalled and angered by his decision.
“It didn’t matter that these Artists have long-standing, successful, internationally acclaimed careers. It didn’t matter that after founding Drag Syndrome, one of the original members was awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth II. It didn’t matter that another performer has won a Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival. 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,” they said in a statement.
Meijer, who is challenging Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI-03) for his congressional seat, responded to DisArt’s criticism Friday by saying the notion he is discriminating against disabled people is “profoundly offensive.”
“DisArt is exploiting individuals with down syndrome to further an activist message, plain and simple. . . If this was a political decision, I would have gone public immediately. I didn’t. I handled this privately because I care about doing what’s right. But DisArt leaked my letter to ArtPrize so they could sell more tickets, and here we are,” Meijer said.
— Ahtra Elnashar (@AhtraElnashar) August 23, 2019
Drag Syndrome will perform at another venue, according to DisArt.
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