School trips to James and the Giant Peach cancelled amid Texas Republicans’ backwards war on drag

Anti-drag rhetoric in Texas is so extreme that school trips to see a performance of James and the Giant Peach were cancelled. 

Spring Branch Independent School District, which serves western Houston, announced field trips to see the play based on Roald Dahl’s children’s book would be axed over concerns it is not “age appropriate” and it contained “movements that could be perceived as suggestive”.  

The school district claimed concerns were raised about the show at the Main Street Theater because the small cast cross-dress to play different roles and one character, an insect, used gender neutral pronouns. 

The decision by the school district comes amid wide-ranging attacks on the LGBTQ+ community in Texas, and the wider US, which seeks to remove queerness from public life. 

In April, two bills were passed in Texas which see children banned from seeing drag shows if they are “sexually explicit”. Under SB12 sexually explicit is defined as performances which feature nudity, a man dressing as a woman or a woman dressing as a man, or “appealing to the prurient interest in sex”. 

LGBTQ+ activists raised concerns that the legislation is broad and vague, meaning a wide range of things could be defined as inappropriate, including theatre performances which are in no way sexual. 

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Concerns about the content of James and the Giant Peach were fanned by anti-LGBTQ+ social media account, @htxkidsfirst, which shared posts criticising the theatre, members of the cast and messages from parents claiming they would keep their children home from the trip. 

The account went as far as to accuse the theatre as “grooming” children. 

“We (along with many) are keeping our son home tomorrow but a lot of parents are asking me about the drag queen[’]s role in the show,” one screenshot from a parent read, “I understand he is in every show and is a main character but do you know [if] he [is] playing a guy or a girl? Like is he in drag for the performance?!”

Crossdressing a ‘theatrical tradition since the art form began’

In response, the theatre said: “Recently a social media post was made about our usage of cross-gender casting. 

“This is a technique we have used for years (which has produced great humor!) to allow us to produce works with smaller casts. 

“In addition, there was a question of the use of pronouns for the insects. 

“True to Dahl’s book, the Glowworm explains that it is not a male but rather a female because male Glowworms do not light up.”

Speaking to the Houston Chronicle, Main Street Theater artistic director Rebecca Udden said many children have seen the show with “no ill effects”. 

“I’m sure this is just a blanket statement which avoids wading into a few parents’ trumped-up controversy over cross-gender casting, a theatrical tradition since the art form began,” Udden told the local newspaper.

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