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Why Drag Race Should Support #MeToo and Cancel This Season

Sherry Pie

Many times, the right thing to do is not the easy route or the inexpensive one. This is one of those times.

This week, BuzzFeed News reported that five men have accused Sherry Pie, a contestant on this season's RuPaul's Drag Race, of catfishing and sexual misconduct.

Pie, whose real name is Joey Gugliemelli, allegedly posed as a casting director, Allison Mossie, with several actors at SUNY Cortland in New York, where he is an alumnus, as well as a Nebraska theater company. The men accuse Gugliemelli of pretending to be Mossie over email in order to force them to perform questionable, sex-related acts.

As Mossie, Gugliemelli would allegedly dangle the prospect roles for productions — among them, a fake HBO series (or film) named Bulk and a faux musical version of A Nightmare Before Christmas

Ben Shimkus, a 25-year-old actor, said he sent videos and answered strange questions related to armpit-smelling and steroid use in the hopes of obtaining a part. Another accuser, 23-year-old Josh Lillyman, said Gugliemelli posed as an "auxiliary casting agent" for Mossie. In a real-life taping coordinated by Gugliemelli, the Drag Race contestant allegedly persuaded Lillyman to strip down to his underwear, masturbate in the bathroom, and then touch himself on camera for "Mossie."

Almost immediately after the article published Thursday, Gugliemelli posted a statement on Facebook expressing "how sorry I am that I caused such trauma and pain and how horribly embarrassed and disgusted I am with myself." He then committed himself to "change the behavior" by seeking help with health professionals.

This statement is validation for Gugliemelli's accusers. However, it puts VH1 in a horrible position. How does a network respond to the news that a contestant on one of its shows is not only accused of acts of sexual misconduct — but has also issued a clear admission of wrongdoing?

"In light of recent developments and Sherry Pie's statement, Sherry Pie has been disqualified from RuPaul's Drag Race," a spokesperson for VH1 and World of Wonder, Drag Race's production company, told the BuzzFeed reporter who broke the news. "Out of respect for the hard work of the other queens, VH1 will air the season as planned. Sherry will not appear in the grand finale scheduled to be filmed later this spring."

While this move is a step in the right direction — spoiler: America's Next Drag Superstar will not be an accused sex offender — it is, unfortunately for the other queens of season 12, not enough.

Gugliemelli will still appear in multiple episodes of Drag Race this season. Thus, every ounce of praise from the judges, every gag-worthy moment, every follower Gugliemelli receives on social media will be thanks to the decision of VH1 to give someone facing multiple allegations of misconduct a platform. Gugliemelli will have weeks to win over America on network TV, and many viewers may not even be aware of the serious allegations against him.

Additionally, the show's casting is already facing heated criticism from Drag Race alumni about the absence of trans contestants. The recurring presence of Gugliemelli will do it no favors.

This decision not to cancel season 12 would be particularly egregious in the #MeToo era, when so many brave individuals have come forward to name those who harmed them and demand a systemic response for change. While all survivors fight to be believed, men face their own unique hurdles in telling stories of sexual harassment due to stigma and feeling "left out" of the movement.

In his interview with BuzzFeed, Shimkus said that he came forward because, “With a larger platform, [Gugliemelli] has the ability to do this to more people and I wanted to fight against that.”

VH1 should listen to Shimkus, even if it means refilming the season. It is not the easy choice, but it is the Right One.

Daniel Reynolds is a senior editor at The Advocate. Find him on Twitter @dnlreynolds.

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