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Why the Outrage Over Tamron Hall's Sherry Pie Interview Matters

Tamron Hall

For those standing outside of the fandom of RuPaul's Drag Race, a significant event occurred this week related to one of its former contestants, Sherry Pie.

Last year, just days before his premiere on season 12, Pie, whose real name is Joey Gugliemelli, was accused of catfishing and sexual misconduct by several men. He 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 accused Gugliemelli of pretending to be Mossie over email in order to force them to perform questionable, sex-related acts. These alleged acts ranged from sending a man steroids to bulk up to a real-life taping and casting-couch scene where a man was asked to masturbate and touch himself on camera.

When BuzzFeed News first reported on these allegations, I wrote an op-ed in The Advocate urging Drag Race's producers to scrap the season and refilm it without Gugliemelli. That commentary piece was published March 6, just days before the world stalled due to a pandemic and Hollywood likewise ground to a halt.

Rather than cancel season 12, the producers released an edit that minimized Gugliemelli's screen time. Reaction commentary and runways were cut. Gugliemelli was a strong contender for the crown, and while he ultimately made it to the top four, he was disqualified. A title card, positioned before and after each episode, reminded viewers of Pie's allegations and committed the show to donations to LGBTQ+ charities.

The message was clear: Drag Race would not give a platform to a contestant accused of catfishing and sexual abuse. It was also a watershed moment for the #MeToo movement in the gay community. While there were several gay figures who were brought down by accusations of sexual misconduct — notably, Kevin Spacey — the reports were few in comparison to the enormity of the issue. One in 10 rape victims are male, but men — particularly, marginalized men — are not as likely to come forward due to stigma, or are not taken as seriously by the media. Finally, it seemed, their voices were being heard.

And then came the Tamron Hall interview. This week, the morning talk show host brought on Gugliemelli (and not his alleged victims!) to discuss the allegations and apologize. (The Advocate, for the record, was offered an interview with the disgraced drag queen in conjunction with the Hall appearance, but turned it down.) In a flash, the progress that had seemed to occur in the conversation on male sexual assault evaporated.

But the backlash was swift. Before the airing of the offensive episode, Drag Race contestants like Jackie Cox rallied to the side of Gugliemelli's alleged victims and outlined why Hall lending him a platform was wrong.

"Being a performer and public persona is not a right, it is a privilege," the season 12 contestant, who had competed against Gugliemelli, wrote in a tweet. "Sherry relinquished this privilege by their actions. Giving Sherry a spotlight without the forethought to reach out to victims is irresponsible, immoral, & wrong. I stand with the victims of Sherry’s actions."

Hall did not listen. The interview was aired. But thankfully, Entertainment Weekly and Out, The Advocate's sister publication, stepped in to give space to Gugliemelli's alleged victims. For Out, Ben Shimkus outlined why the interview was not only offensive to him, but also an irresponsible act of straight public figures mainstream media diminishing the importance of LGBTQ+ survivors of sexual assault.

"Let this be a moment that media outlets like the Tamron Hall Show and Wendy Williams recognize the immense privilege and responsibility of their massive platforms," Shimkus wrote. "And not only recognize it, but utilize it in ways that do not trigger and/or further traumatize survivors needlessly.

"I hope this moment doesn’t serve as an example to victims as to why they shouldn’t come forward about their abuse. The queer community is here to hear you and believe you. I believe you. We’ve been standing in solidarity with one another in responding to all of this and should be proud."

Shimkus ended his piece with the hope that straight people with platforms "will hopefully come along someday." And in the near future, when inevitably they fail us, it is up to us to once again make noise and remind them of how they must do better.

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

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