RuPaul’s Drag Race has disqualified Sherry Pie (real name: Joey Gugliemelli), one of its drag queen contestants and frontrunners, amidst allegations of sexual misconduct.
“In light of recent developments and Sherry Pie’s statement, Sherry Pie has been disqualified from RuPaul’s Drag Race,” the show posted on its official Twitter account.
Over the course of the week, at least five different men came forward with stories about Gugliemelli using a fake identity to promise acting opportunities. They claimed that Gugliemelli coerced them into sending him sexually suggestive fetish videos instead of following through on the job offers.
“It was a tough pill to swallow, knowing that I hadn’t listened to my gut instinct about how uncomfortable I was. That I had sent suggestive videos of myself, and I didn’t know what the videos were being used for,” Ben Shimkus, one of the actors Gugliemelli had allegedly coerced, wrote in a post on Facebook.
Gugliemelli issued an apology on Thursday night, saying sorry to the men he had hurt. He stopped short of detailing specifics, but claimed that he is receiving treatment for his behavior; he did not say what the treatment was for specifically, nor what he was sorry for.
Gugliemelli isn’t the only contestant on this season of Drag Race facing sexual harassment allegations. But Gugliemelli is the only one to have been disqualified thus far in season 12, which is currently airing on VH1. Although much of this season has already been filmed, it’s sure to be one of the biggest storylines. It’s hard to ignore that this is a dark moment for a show that is considered to be a pioneer in LGBTQ representation, whose fanbase has only grown over the course of its 12 seasons and many spinoffs. And when you take the full story of the allegations into account, the moment gets even darker.
The allegations facing Drag Race’s Sherry Pie involve a catfish scheme
The accusations facing Gugliemelli involves allegations of deceit, a fake identity, and manipulation.
On March 4, 25-year-old Ben Shimkus posted a long Facebook update detailing his history with Gugliemelli. The pair had attended the same Musical Theatre program at Cortland State University. After he graduated a friend had alerted Shimkus to a role into a new play. The person he was told to contact was named “Allison Mossey.”
Shimkus explained that over the span of 150 e-mails, Mossey had discussed rehearsals, the new play, and asked that Shimkus audition via video for the role in question. That’s where things got uncomfortable, he said.
I had to film scenes that felt particularly sexual and awkward, but the opportunity seemed too good to let the overt sexual nature or my inhibitions get in the way. I simply told myself that my parents wouldn’t be allowed to see the show, but I wanted the professional experience and the bright and shiny object on my resume.
The specific video submissions I sent were of me taking steroids and immediately growing larger muscles and gaining physical power. The character, Jeff, talked about how much his armpits began to stink and how much he liked that. It was a tough pill to swallow, knowing that I hadn’t listened to my gut instinct about how uncomfortable I was. That I had sent suggestive videos of myself, and I didn’t know what the videos were being used for.
Eventually Shimkus called Playwright’s Horizons, the theater company Mossey had worked for, and found out that Mossey wasn’t affiliated with the company. Shimkus then called his friend who had initially told him about Mossey and found out that he had gotten Mossey’s information from Gugliemelli.
Shimkus wrote that the more he talked about it, the more that his friends would also say they had similar experiences with Mossey:
When I began telling my friends about what had happened to me, one of my best friends told me that a colleague who had worked at a theatre doing Hairspray with Sherry [Gugliemelli] also had the same experience with Allison Mossey. Another friend said the same thing had happened to someone she knew. Her friend was also in close contact with Sherry. Wherever Sherry seemed to go, Allison would follow. Since being open about my experience, six people have corroborated stories with me.
The connection Shimkus makes is that Gugliemelli was using Mossey as a front to get these audition tapes and take advantage of these young actors. Since Shimkus’ Facebook post, four other actors have come forward to Buzzfeed News alleging that Gugliemelli, posing as Mossey, led them to film embarrassing and degrading “auditions.” . One told Buzzfeed that he even felt pressured to masturbate on camera for Gugliemelli:
Then, Lillyman said, Gugliemelli suggested he go into the bathroom and masturbate in order to feel more macho. Reluctantly, Lillyman obliged. He was desperate for the part. Other actors had done more for less, he reasoned.
When he emerged, Gugliemelli suggested he do it again on camera. It was only the casting director who would see it, Lillyman thought. Again, he did as he was told.
Joey Gugliemelli a.k.a. Sherry Pie did not deny the accusations, and apologized
Late on March 5, Gugliemelli — who had not responded to any media outlet’s request for comment — addressed the allegations in his own Facebook update. But the post functioned as little more than a blanket apology.
“This is Joey. I want to start by saying how sorry I am that I caused such trauma and pain and how horribly embarrassed and disgusted I am with myself,” he wrote, stating that his actions were due to mental health issues.
“I know that the pain and hurt that I have caused will never go away and I know that what I did was wrong and truly cruel. Until being on RuPaul’s Drag Race, I never really understood how much my mental health and taking care of things meant,” he added, saying he was getting mental health treatment.
“I learned on that show how important ‘loving yourself’ is and I don’t think I have ever loved myself. I have been seeking help and receiving treatment since coming back to NYC. I truly apologize to everyone I have hurt with my actions.”
VH1 and RuPaul’s Drag Race have yet to address the allegations against Gugliemelli and his admission
On Friday afternoon, Drag Race announced on its official Twitter account that Gugliemelli had been disqualified, but that it would air the 12th season, Gugliemelli included, as planned.
...Out of respect for the hard work of the other queens, VH1 will air the season as planned.— RuPaul's Drag Race (@RuPaulsDragRace) March 6, 2020
Sherry will not appear in the grand finale scheduled to be filmed later this spring.” – spokesperson for VH1 and World of Wonder
To be clear, the show has already been filmed and edited, and the competition has already wrapped. Drag Race cannot simply fire Gugliemelli from the show, because he’s already participated and placed in it. On Friday night’s show, Gugliemelli was one of the top performers of the week. (In past seasons, Drag Race filmed its finale before a live audience, and to avoid spoilers, the show films each finalist queen winning the crown before airing the real result on finale night).
And while re-editing the show to take out Gugliemelli might be an option, it seems that Gugliemelli had placed in the finale if he had to be “disqualified.” Queens on Drag Race are usually voted off week by week until the grand finale, and a disqualification seems to indicate that Gugliemelli still had a shot at winning until the accusation came to light, rather than being one of the weekly boots.
Other contestants this season facing sexual harassment allegations include Brita Filter, whose real name is Jesse Havea, who was accused in 2018 of assaulting a man while the alleged victim slept. On August 3, 2018, Havea flatly denied the allegations and yesterday, again on Facebook, again denied that the claims were true:
“I need to re-address the false allegations raised against me in 2018,” Havea wrote. “I reiterate that the claims made against me are untrue. As someone who cares very deeply about the importance of consent (from first-hand experience), I always actively attempt to bring that to the forefront of any sexual encounter I have.”
Havea is still on the show and Drag Race hasn’t commented on the 2018 allegation.
Vox has reached out to VH1 and RuPaul’s Drag Race for comment on Gugliemelli and Havea and will update with more upon receipt.