A teenage drag-queen contest, organized by a group of
Southold teachers and 10th-graders during a recent holiday trip to Europe, has
split this East End community over the question of whether the event was
offensive or simply high-spirited fun.
Dubbed the Miss American- Euro Drag Idol Contest, the show featured a group
of boys nicknamed the Dirty Dozen who donned makeup, bras and women's clothing
with the help of female classmates who were also on tour. While school
officials have described the mock pageant as a way of keeping students occupied
and out of trouble during an evening in their Rome hotel, some Southold
residents voice outrage over certain aspects of the contest - for example, one
teen's posing as a bullwhip-cracking dominatrix.
These critics see such activities as potentially embarrassing for teens
still struggling to come to terms with their sexuality. They question who acted
more sophomoric - the sophomores themselves, or teachers who judged the
competition and cracked jokes that were sexually suggestive.
"Can you believe it?" said Maryann Gensler, a parent active in volunteer
work, including religious instruction at a local church. "It's beneath the
dignity of these young people. This is not how we want to encourage them to
From her work with children, Gensler knew several who took the trip,
including one boy who said he found the drag show offensive. After watching
videotapes of the performances, Gensler objected to Southold school authorities
and later filed a complaint with the state Education Department. A decision is
pending by the state over whether the teachers acted improperly.
Meanwhile, some parents whose teens took the 10-day trip to London, Paris,
Florence and Rome say they see nothing offensive in the drag competition, which
they regard as a harmless spoof on traditional beauty contests.
"I can't get excited about it - I think it was healthy fun," said Bruce L.
McDonald, whose daughter was among 39 sophomores from Southold High School who
participated. McDonald added that the tour, in his opinion, helped build
"appreciation for arts and architecture and the European experience."
The Miss AmericanEuro contest appeared well on its way to becoming a
Southold tradition - at least, until controversy erupted. A photo of the Dirty
Dozen in skirts and halter tops appears in a recent issue of the school
newspaper The Sentinel.
The competition, which took place during spring break on April 8, was
essentially a repeat of one staged by Southold students during a similar tour
two years ago. Like many educational trips abroad, these were approved by the
school district, and run by a private travel company, with participating
families paying fees of about $1,950 per student. Six Southold teachers served
Videotapes show teenage contestants appearing one-by-one before the judges,
after being introduced with such descriptions as "curvaceous," "devilish" or
"shagadelic." Other 10th-graders who are spectators can be heard laughing, as
one contestant pops a bullwhip. At one point, a male judge adopts a falsetto
voice in asking a contestant, "If you could have any man, who would you pick
and why? And please pick me, baby."
"In hindsight, you think, wow!, maybe we could have toned it down," said
Ivan Santiago, a social-studies teacher who organized the trip. He noted,
however, that the drag show was only a brief episode during a lengthy trip, and
that many parents had thanked him for organizing the tour.
Richard Caggiano, president of Southold's school board, whose own daughter
took the trip, agreed that many families had found the experience rewarding. He
added, however, that teachers would be cautioned on the need for more
appropriate behavior during future trips.
Donna Dzugas-Smith hopes her district has learned a lesson from the
controversy, and that behavior will indeed improve. Her son Derek, 16, took the
tour, but chose not to dress in drag, on grounds he found it morally offensive.
"Seeing is believing," the mother said.