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ACLU: Michigan candidate shut out Down syndrome drag troupe

September 6, 2019

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan says a Republican candidate for Congress has discriminated against a troupe of drag performers with Down syndrome, according to a complaint filed Thursday.

The civil rights group filed a complaint with the Michigan Civil Rights Department against Peter Meijer, one of several GOP candidates running to replace the newly declared independent Rep. Justin Amash. Meijer denied access to the U.K.-based Drag Syndrome for a performance in a Grand Rapids building he owns during a project affiliated with the international ArtPrize competition. He has provided donated space for the project.

Meijer, grandson of Meijer Inc. supermarket chain founder Frederik Meijer, said he worried about exploiting the performers after consulting with advocacy groups, and he informed organizers last month. Meijer added he was unclear whether they were acting of their own volition and believed they ought to be protected.

ACLU-Michigan’s complaint says the performers “are choosing, with capacity, to perform in a touring drag troupe.” DisArt, a Grand Rapids based organization that booked Drag Syndrome, provided such information about the artists who were scheduled to appear.

Three members of the troupe were scheduled to perform at Meijer’s building, along with local area drag performers who self-identify as having a disability, according to the complaint.

The troupe, which is composed of adults, is on an international tour for the next few months that includes other stops in the U.S. as well as Canada, Mexico and Europe, according to its website. The site includes biographies of seven artists.

The Disability Drag Show takes place Saturday at another venue. The complaint seeks compensation for DisArt for costs associated with arranging and booking alternative space. A specific amount hasn’t been requested, the ACLU said.

Meijer told reporters that he’s also curious to know what such developments could mean for private property owners.

Michigan Civil Rights Department spokeswoman Vicki Levengood said the agency is reviewing the ACLU’s allegations to determine if they meet the requirements for a discrimination complaint. The review should be completed next week, she said.

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