Amid backlash, SDSU president says university is not sponsoring “kid-friendly” drag show

Conservative activists and state lawmakers are expressing disagreement with a “kid-friendly” drag show scheduled to happen Wednesday evening on the campus of South Dakota State University.
South Dakota State University tower in fall.
Published: Nov. 16, 2022 at 1:37 PM MST
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BROOKINGS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - A number of South Dakota state lawmakers and conservative activists believe that a drag show advertised as “kid friendly” should not be able to move forward after it was brought to light earlier this week.

The event is slated to take place Wednesday evening, on the South Dakota State University (SDSU) campus in Brookings. A description of the event on SDSU’s website refers to the event as “kid-friendly,” and encourages those attending to “show your support for the drag queens by bringing $1 or $5 bills to tip if you choose!”

SDSU President Barry Dunn says the university did not sponsor the drag show. Rather, the event was sponsored by the Gender and Sexualities Alliance student organization.

In a statement to Dakota News Now, Dunn suggested that any student organization can sponsor and host events on campus, in accordance with South Dakota state law.

“We apologize for the miscommunication pertaining to the drag show in the University Student Union tomorrow night. The sponsor of this event is the Gender and Sexualities Alliance student organization, and not South Dakota State University or its Office of Multicultural Affairs. Registered student organizations are free to sponsor lawful events on campus in accordance with SDCL 13-53-52 and applicable policy. This event is being put on by the GSA student group and not supported by university funds.”

Barry Dunn, South Dakota State University President

The Gender and Sexualities Alliance is one of the campus groups recognized by the Office of Multicultural Affairs. The event page originally listed the Office of Multicultural Affairs as the sponsor of the event, but that has since been deleted from the page.

Dunn’s statement did not quell conservative opposition. A number of Republican lawmakers took to social media to criticize the university for allowing the event to take place on it’s campus.

State Rep. Jon Hansen (R-Dell Rapids) took to Twitter to question the event.

State Rep. Chris Karr (R-Sioux Falls), currently chair of the House Appropriations committee, wrote a letter to Dunn and South Dakota Board of Regents Executive Director Brian Maher, pushing them to take action in the short and long term to prevent kids from attending this event, and ones like it from moving forward.

South Dakota Republican State Rep. Chris Karr (R-Sioux Falls) wrote a letter to South Dakota...
South Dakota Republican State Rep. Chris Karr (R-Sioux Falls) wrote a letter to South Dakota State University (SDSU) President Barry Dunn and Board of Regents Executive Director Brian Maher asking them to answer questions about a "kid-friendly" drag show taking place on the campus of SDSU.(Submitted)

“As a legislator, I have a responsibility to protect our students and families whenever possible,” Karr wrote. “As the Chair of Appropriations, I have a responsbility to monitor the utilization of State resources and ensure the best use of taxpayer dollars. This event raises questions regarding these priorities and responsibilities. This clearly sounds like an event for adults.”

The Rapid City based Family Heritage Alliance (FHA), urged people to call the university and the Board of Regents to get the event canceled.

Norman Woods, Executive Director for FHA, pointed to similar events that had occurred in recent months in South Dakota as a reason why parents should speak up.

“We can longer afford to be silent. It’s up to parents to protect their children and stop events like this,” Woods wrote. “If parents band together and cause enough backlash, the hosts of these events may be forced to cancel them, as we’ve seen in other states.”

Lee Mallak, who is listed as the event’s sponsor online, has not yet responded to a request for comment about the event.

State Representative-elect Kadyn Wittman (D-Sioux Falls) argued that it is important to support “LGBTQ and Two Spirit students and also creating an environment in which they can thrive.”

“As a state representative, I will always support LGBTQ students and fight to ensure the government is not infringing on their rights to free speech and free association,” Wittman wrote.