On-campus drag show blasted for mocking Catholic faith prompts investigation

drag queen Screenshot of video posted on Twitter by @LandonStarbuck of a drag performance at Tennessee Tech University on Aug. 20, 2022.

Tennessee Tech University says it is investigating the circumstances surrounding a recent on-campus show by a drag performer dressed like a Franciscan friar.

A video of the performance posted on social media drew sharp rebukes for mocking the Catholic faith.

“All students, faculty, and staff deserve care and consideration, as well as representation and respect,” Phil Oldham, the school’s president, said in a statement issued Thursday night. “The investigation focuses on the inappropriate involvement of minors and a review of our policies and procedures.”

The video shows the drag performer dancing suggestively to the pop song “Take Me to Church” by Irish singer-songwriter Hozier and making the sign of the cross before removing the brown cloak to reveal a corset-type outfit underneath.

The performance took place at the on-campus Backdoor Playhouse during an Aug. 20 event called “DRAG at the Backdoor” sponsored by the group Upper Cumberland Pride.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, a nonprofit Catholic civil rights organization, blasted the performance, calling it “indefensible.” In a letter to Oldham, he said the performer should be disinvited from the playhouse’s next drag show, scheduled for Sept. 24.

“Backstage Playhouse bills itself as an organization that fosters ‘creativity, critical thinking, excellence, and professionalism through the integration of courses, productions, workshops, and other activities,’” Donohue wrote in a letter to Oldham, citing a description of the group on its university website. “Why, then, would it be home to an anti-Catholic event?”

Oldham agreed that the performance was offensive.

“I am disturbed and dismayed about the activities in a video circulating on social media from a recent event on Tennessee Tech’s campus,” Oldham said in his statement.

“I do not feel the activities in the video represent Tech’s values, and I do not condone explicit activity where minors are present. I also am offended by disparaging mockery toward any religious group,” he continued.

“To be clear, this was not a university sponsored event. No university funds were used. Two registered student groups facilitated the scheduling and promotion of the event. Although registered student organizations have the ability to reserve space on campus, the programming should not include obscene, lewd, or explicit activities,” he said.

Donohue commended Oldham for his response. 

“Kudos to the president of Tennessee Technological University, Philip Oldham, for taking a strong stand against an anti-Catholic event that took place on his campus,” Donohue said in a statement posted on the Catholic League’s website.

“President Oldham has acted responsibly, which is why I am tapping the brakes. But Catholics should know what we were about to do,” he added, referring to his appeal to government leaders.

Sponsoring group responds

Donohue’s letter to Oldham identifies the drag performer at Joshua Lancaster, using the stage name WitchCrafted.

More in US

In a response to a request for comment, Lancaster, who hosts a podcast called Witch Crafted, declined to confirm that he was the performer seen in the video. He emailed CNA a statement issued Friday by Upper Cumberland Pride, the show’s sponsoring group.

“The accusations made on social media are not only false but damaging to all those involved. Our hope is to resolve this misunderstanding with the university and continue to educate the community about our organization and the LGBTQIA+ community,” the statement reads.

“The performer in question never presented themselves as a member of the clergy and did not speak against any religion, including Christianity. The performer also had multiple layers of clothing on, and was covered from neck to toe in fabric, even after the costume change,” the statement continued.

“At any of our family friendly events, no children are ever put in any sexual situation, nor would we ever consider that an acceptable thing to do,” the group said.

“When we hold all ages events, performers are asked to ensure that song lyrics are clean and that there is no sexual connotation to their performances. We want everyone in attendance to feel safe, welcome, and to have a good time,” the statement said.

“While the statement from the TTU President Phil Oldham is disheartening, UCP stands behind the performers and their performances at The Back Door Playhouse,” the statement added.

Upper Cumberland Pride says on its website that it “unites the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and allied communities in support of the inclusion, dignity, and equality of all people.”

(Story continues below)

Backdoor Playhouse posted a statement on its Facebook page Friday morning after Oldham’s statement was released.

“#Pride isn’t a thing we do one month out of the year. It’s part of our core principles here at the Backdoor Playhouse. It’s our culture and our identity. It’s us!” the post reads. “To all of our LGBTQ+ friends: We love you! We see you! We stand with you!”

On its webpage, the group’s artistic director, Mark Harry Creter, says the group seeks “to understand theatre not only as a means of artistic expression and a form of entertainment but as a window into history, a way to examine the question of what it means to be human, and a vehicle for social change.” 

Neither Creter, a theater professor at Tennessee Tech, nor a university spokesperson were immediately available for comment Saturday.

Tennessee Tech is located in Cookeville, Tennessee, and has an enrollment of about 10,000 students.

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.