The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a complaint against congressional Republican candidate Peter Meijer, 31, for refusing to host a drag queen performance at a venue he owns from a group of performers with Down syndrome dubbed "Drag Syndrome."
Meijer, who is running for the seat currently occupied by Rep. Justin Amash in Michigan, said he could not provide his venue for the drag show in good conscience out of concern that the members of the troupe are being exploited.
The ACLU filed a complaint against the candidate with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights alleging discrimination concerning disability and sex, according to The New York Times.
Staff attorney at the ACLU Michigan chapter Jay Kaplan suggested the complaint was predominantly filed due to the drag component. "If members of the group were to perform an orchestra recital, chances are he wouldn’t have canceled the performance," he said.
The Republican candidate told the Times that he did not come to the decision lightly, reaching out to dozens of people, including "members of the disability advocacy community, parents of children with Down syndrome, members of the L.G.B.T. community and national groups dedicated to Down syndrome."
The main question for Mr. Meijer was if the participants could give full, informed consent.
"The involvement of individuals whose ability to act of their own volition is unclear raises serious ethical concerns that I cannot reconcile," Meijer wrote in the letter regarding his decision, adding: "The differently abled are among the most special souls in our community, and I believe they, like children and other vulnerable populations, should be protected."
DisArt, a production company focused on artists with disabilities, fiercely ripped Meijer for allegedly discriminating against the performers for their disability.
"Exclusion is discrimination, it is self-preservation, it is exploitation for political gain. It is not protection," the statement from DisArt said. "We are deeply saddened, angered and appalled at the decision to exclude Drag Syndrome."
"DisArt WILL protect the artists of Drag Syndrome by protecting their rights,” the statement continued. "There will be another venue announced soon, and on September 7th, as part of Project 1 by ArtPrize, Drag Syndrome will perform in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We hope you will be there to celebrate, to learn, to grow, and to build a stronger, more inclusive community for all."
Meijer said it was baffling for critics of his decision to brand him an ableist or a transphobe.
"I have been called a bigot, an ableist, a homophobe and a transphobe," the candidate told the Times. "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."
According to the outlet, Meijer could be hit with a fine for denying his venue if the complaint were to be considered valid.