The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a formal complaint against a Republican congressional candidate over his refusal to host a drag show featuring mentally disabled performers at a venue he owns in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Peter Meijier, the heir to a Michigan grocery-store empire and a first-time Republican congressional candidate, refused to host a London-based troupe of drag performers who have Down syndrome out of concern that the performers would be unable to give their “full and informed consent” to participate in a sexualized dance routine.
The ACLU filed a complaint on Thursday with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights on the grounds that Meijer is discriminating against the performers on the basis of their disability and their sex.
“If members of the group were to perform an orchestra recital, chances are he wouldn’t have canceled the performance,” Jay Kaplan, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan, told the New York Times.
The performers, who call themselves “Drag Syndrome,” were scheduled to dance as part of an art exhibition organized by local non-profit ArtPrize that began Saturday.
In a letter to the director of ArtPrize, and in a subsequent interview with a local TV station, Meijer explained that he was motivated by a desire to protect the performers from coercive sexualization at the hands of political activists.
“The involvement of individuals whose ability to act of their own volition is unclear raises serious ethical concerns that I cannot reconcile,” he wrote in the letter.
“I have been called a bigot, an ableist, a homophobe and a transphobe,” Mr. Meijer told the Times in an interview on Wednesday. “I fundamentally don’t understand how someone can take my very good faith concern about the potential for exploitation and spin that into discriminating against people with a disability.”
The non-profit that invited the group, DisArt, secured a new venue for the performance. The group’s Saturday show sold out, so it has scheduled a second for Sunday, according to the Times.
Meijer announced in July that he will mount a bid to unseat Representative Justin Amash, who resigned from the Republican party in July amid backlash over his call for President Trump’s impeachment.