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

Image from the Disability Drag Show planned for Sept. 7

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.


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  • IIf they're conservative or republican, sue them..

    Maybe Meijers, DeVos, and VanAndel, should pack up their buildings and move on out of Grand Rapids and let the ACLU run the city. .

    • Douglas Wilhelm

      Seeing as how little Ricky DeVos is on the board of directors of ArtPrize, and he knew they’d be sued if they cancelled the show, I’m sure he is fully behind it at this point.

    • What's right, what wrong?

      If DisArt had their own building that they owned, and Mr Meijer was to hold a campaign rally there and the folks of disart didn’t agree to his views would disart be within their rights to cancel his campaign?

    • tverbeek

      So you think that if the owner of a entertainment venue decides not to let black people perform there, that should be OK. That’s a terrifying idea.

      • Matt

        Yes, i also believe a black owner can tell a white person to go else where. A dog can tell a cat to go else where. You get the point. Its a private venue. Would it be the kkk to protest on youok for the lawn? Antifa assemble in your driveway? This guy didnt want them performing there because he felt the people were being exploited, NOT because of race gender or sexual orientation. Get your facts straight, you’re as bad as the AP.

        • tverbeek

          So you support racial segregation, which is the position of the KKK, and was outlawed 50 years ago. Thanks for clarifying your moral authority: you have none and you disgust me.

      • Matt

        Stop playing the race card. Its getting very very old. My point is the owner of a PRIVATE BUSINESS should be allowed to turn away or accept what is going to be displayed at their place of business. Turning this in to a race or sexual orientation discrimination case is B.S.

          • Matt

            Sounds like your the racist here. They are usual white females that have never had any kind of diversity in their life. They think that because they have a coexist sticker on their car they are some sort of freedom fighter. YOU are the one that turned this into a racist dialogue, you racist.

          • Matt

            Also im not tag teaming with kevin. You responded to my post. Your way of thinking is not written in stone and neither is mine. My point was simple; his place of business his right to decide. And its funny how you never answered my two questions. Im guessing your answer would have to yes they are both welcome because you dont discriminate.

          • tverbeek

            The civil rights law that you and Kevin want to ignore distinguishes between a business that’s open to the public (a restaurant, hotel, store, or theater) and a private home. If you, the Klan, or anyone else threatens me in my home, that’s illegal. But that’s different from a disabled, gay, or black person simply wanting to eat at a restaurant or book a show at Meijer’s theater. Laws were passed against that kind of discrimination (which is why you don’t see “whites only” signs anymore), and Meijer knows it. That’s why he made up that paranoid accusation – without evidence – that people were being “exploited”. (And you know he didn’t really believe it, because he didn’t call the police.)

          • Kevin Rahe

            There is a distinction between merely respecting someone as an individual and specifically cooperating with, respecting or supporting some act or association they freely choose to engage in. You can’t morally discriminate against someone as an individual. You can certainly discriminate against something they freely chooses to do that you disagree with. For instance, the law proscribes someone refusing me service (e.g. serving me in a restaurant) because I’m Catholic. But I cannot turn around and use that same law to get someone to specifically respect, support or cooperate with a Catholic practice.

          • tverbeek

            Your egotistical assumption that anyone cares about your respect is really quite sad. How devoid of Christ your soul must be that you try to fill it that way.

  • Kevin Rahe

    All a judge or jury has to do is consider that Mr. Meijer was honest about his reasons for withdrawing the venue for the show and the case will be closed. Those bringing the case, who seem unable to understand that actions have meaning and that there are some people who will use others, won’t get it, but perhaps after they get smacked down a few more times in similar situations they will learn that there are still a fair number of people who have morals and expect at least themselves to live by them, even if so many others seem unwilling to.

    • Jane Hash

      Discriminating against people with disabilities is not an example of having high morals. It is offensive, ignorant, and ableist.

        • Douglas Wilhelm

          Makes no difference what his intent is, he is potentially breaking the law. He has zero proof these folks are being exploited – there is absolutely nothing to support that. This is, and always has been, about keeping LGBT themes out of Grand Rapids, and ArtPrize. ArtPrize has already said they wouldn’t cancel the event out of fear of a lawsuit. But I guess if you are Pete Meijer, you are probably OK with being sued over it, makes him the Christian Martyr.

          • Kevin Rahe

            >This is, and always has been, about keeping LGBT
            >themes out of Grand Rapids, and ArtPrize.

            A couple weeks ago at the “community discussion” about this the organizers told me to give up the microphone and accused me of “hate speech” when I said something that implied a connection between “LGBT themes” and drag, which they wanted to disavow. Thanks for being honest.

    • tverbeek

      So you think that, just because Meijer was honest about the fact that his reasons for discriminating against people with disabilities is because he believes he’s somehow better than them, he should be allowed to do that?

        • tverbeek

          “Better” meaning that people with Down Syndrome are unable to make their own decisions about how to spend a Saturday night, and that he is better suited to make that decision for them. It was all in his letter. If you don’t understand this…. maybe we need to have YOU evaluated to see if you can make those kinds of choices for yourself? How would you feel about that?

          • Kevin Rahe

            I don’t see where Mr. Meijer claimed he was better than anyone. He may have generalized about the capabilities and challenges people with Down Syndrome have, but I don’t think those generalizations depart from professional opinions of what those capabilities and challenges typically are. That said, people with Down Syndrome are of course all over the board when it comes to what they can actually accomplish. You might have been able to use this against him if there was reason to believe that the performers might actually understand all the issues involved in this event. But that point became moot when it became clear that even the organizers aren’t willing to understand those issues.

          • tverbeek

            This isn’t even about what people with Down Syndrome can “accomplish”. It’s about some of them making their own choice, to do something entirely harmless. And of course if anyone thinks this is something other than “harmless”, that just demonstrates the ignorant prejudice they have about drag shows. It’s simply a costume show, and if this were a dress-up *Christmas pageant* put on by people with DS, I’m sure you and Meijer would be in front row applauding, not giving a thought to whether the participants were being “exploited”. This whole thing is a putrid stew of bed-wetting homophobia and paternalistic ableism. Which I guess explains why someone from so-called “Right To Life” is so worked up about excusing it.

          • tverbeek

            You see, folks, the problem with people like Kevin or Peter Meijer is that they don’t understand the limits of their own understanding. They can see ALL THE WAY to the horizon, so they think know the whole world.

            Kevin’s probably never been to a drag show, and probably finds them unsettling, so he’s never really tried to understand what they’re about. (I’m not into show tunes so I don’t go to them much, but I’ve known lots of drag performers.) I’m going to guess from his attitude that he doesn’t have a lot of close adult friends with neurological disabilities (in my case, three of my oldest and closest friends), so he doesn’t fully appreciate what they are like as people who make their own choices in life.

            Nonetheless, he’s sure that all these people who ARE familiar with people who do drag, and with people with disabilities… don’t understand the situation at all. But – somehow – HE does. There’s a log in his eye, but all he can do is rant about the speck he thinks he sees in others’.

          • Kevin Rahe

            I will happily address any questions about my position on this matter from anyone at any time in any place I might be found, online or elsewhere.

          • tverbeek

            Since you’re infatuated with the sound of your own voice, why not discuss your views on religiously motivated racial discrimination with Matt, elsewhere in these comments?

          • tverbeek

            Only because you and racist Matt (whom you’ve “strangely” left alone) are tag-teaming me. But I’ll let you have the last word now, if you’re the sort of fragile ego with delusions of divine wisdom who needs that.

  • Kevin Rahe

    The problem with this event is that there is an agenda being enacted across our country that essentially forces people of good faith and morals to affirm as true someone else’s claim that their (typically) healthy and whole body is a curse rather than a blessing, and it is very difficult to separate that agenda from the “art” of drag, since drag is a way of reinforcing their self-image for many of those who are asserting such claims. Involving people with one disability or another in this so-called “art” is unconscionable, because it’s extremely difficult to distinguish their performance – like the similar performance of anyone else – from support of that agenda. It’s unconscionable to promote such a thing.

  • lml25

    Various colleges have invoked the option of not allowing conservative speakers at their school. No difference here except schools(as public institutions) should be promoting free speech and don’t.This is a private citizen choosing who he wants to allow to perform on his property. He has that right as well.

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