During the monthlong delay of the inaugural Madison East High School drag show, its student organizers tuned out the harassment that caused the delay and instead focused on the outpouring of support from the community.

“I did not read Twitter,” one of the organizers said a few days after last Friday’s show. “The thing that we were all focused on was the insane amount of support we got. We had so many community members reach out to us, we had multiple donations because of all the news, which was so sweet.

“That was the thing everyone was thinking about a lot more than the negative.”

Both that student — an East senior who helped plan the show, and another senior who attended — requested anonymity in speaking with the Cap Times, given the online harassment that forced its delay.

East’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance, or GSA, hosted the show, which drew nearly 200 people to the school’s auditorium last Friday night. The event was originally planned for Jan. 19, but after right-wing outrage on social media, the district in early January postponed it for “safety concerns.”

The rescheduled event wasn’t advertised widely like the first time to avoid the type of attention it received in January, when a screenshot of principal Mikki Smith’s mention of the upcoming show circulated on Twitter after a lawyer from the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty tweeted it out.

Soon after, Libs of TikTok, an account that has been suspended from Twitter multiple times, sent out its own tweets about the event. The account has focused much of its energy on anti-LGBTQ messaging, often focused on schools and educators.

Its first tweet on the event has more than 1.5 million views and received more than 1,700 retweets, including a quote tweet from Republican former Gov. Scott Walker, among others.

Soon after the Libs of TikTok tweets, accounts began responding to unrelated tweets from the Madison Metropolitan School District and East High accounts, repeatedly directing the word “groomers” at both.

Drag shows are not sexual in nature, instead they typically feature someone identifying as a man dressed in woman’s clothing or vice versa, often performing a dance.

Superintendent Carlton Jenkins addressed Walker, specifically, during his Jan. 31 State of the District address, held in the same auditorium where the drag show would take place weeks later.

“I say to the former governor, stay out of our business,” Jenkins said that evening. “This is what we do at East High School.”

The student organizer said school staff, including Smith and other administrators, supported them throughout.

“Without the support of our principal, this wouldn’t have happened, and she is a really frickin’ awesome person,” the organizer said. “The whole admin team at our school was incredibly supportive, and we really appreciate them.”

The East senior who attended the show said it was odd to see the criticism, “because the people talking don’t know what it’s like inside of the school.” It was the student’s first drag show, and they found it “fun.”

“You could tell that the GSA put a lot of work and love into making sure this went on,” they said. “It was just a good time all around. Along with many of my peers, it was our first drag show, and I think it was a really good first experience for a lot of us.”

The other student, who helped organize the event, said it was “important to celebrate the queer community.”

“Being a high-schooler is challenging for everyone, and being a queer high-schooler just adds a little extra layer of hardship,” they said. “Seeing yourself in your community is really valuable as a queer student, even just seeing a pride flag in the classroom makes me feel a little better and a little more welcome.

“So putting on this event was another way of just saying, ‘You’re welcome and you are loved.’”

Both students noted they enjoyed seeing the outfits of the performers, which included local drag queens and kings, the student organizer said. They added that it was gratifying to be there.

“As someone who planned the event, it was really fun to see other people enjoying the event while I was also enjoying it,” they said.

They’re already talking about “how awesome the drag shows will be next year,” as they expect it to become an annual event.

“It’s really nice knowing that we’re leaving this legacy that is really positive,” they said. “Because it isn’t just a one-time thing, it isn’t an offhand acknowledgement of our existence.

“It’s very easy to become a footnote when you’re a minority of any type, and having it happen over and over again … it affirms the idea of, ‘You’re going to get to stay here and you’re going to get to occupy this space and continue to be here and we love you.’”

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