DisArt, ACLU to ask for civil rights investigation after drag show cancellation

Posted at 10:57 AM, Sep 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-03 13:45:48-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The American Civil Liberties Union and a local organization that supports disabled artists say they will bring a discrimination complaint against the owner of a Grand Rapids building.

The ACLU and DisArt made the announcement Tuesday they’ll work on a discrimination complaint to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights against Peter Meijer, the owner of the Tanglefoot Building. DisArt had planned to hold a Disability Drag Show at the building on September 7, but Meijer refused to let three performers take part, all of who have Downs syndrome, saying he had concerns they were being exploited.

The performance was part of the kickoff to Project 1 by ArtPrize for 2019. The Wealthy Street Theatre will now host the performance, which is now sold out.  DisArt says they are looking at staging a second performance on September 8 if they can secure a venue.

Jay Kaplan of the ACLU said in the news conference that Meijer was told that the performers were able to understand the show and consented to being a part of it. Kaplan alleged that “Meijer appears to be motivated by his objections to performing in drag which raises issues of gender stereotyping.”

“DisArt is exploiting individuals with Down syndrome to further an activist message, plain and simple,” Meijer said in a statement last month.

Meijer sent this statement to FOX 17 Tuesday:

“It is unfortunate that these groups are choosing to politicize this issue. We have acted in good faith to deal with a difficult issue and will always err on the side of defending the vulnerable.”

DisArt representative Chris Smit said that DisArt will continue to display their art and support the other artists on display at Tanglefoot for Project 1.

DisArt also announced three public panel discussions regarding artists, disabilities and censorship. They will be held on September 6, 13, and 20 at 4:00 p.m. at Little Space Studio at 111 S. Division.