RuPaul's Drag Race artwork

The RuPaul Fracking Controversy, Explained

CoverGirl, pump the breaks on your flop.

We’d like to believe that the “Queen of Drag” slays all day, every day, but this particular piece of information is less slay, and more flop. Major flop. Like, flop around like a dying fish in a puddle of oil, kind of flop.

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The success of RuPaul’s Drag Race goes beyond all sorts of boundaries, from making its way into the mainstream to, of course, considerable financial success. On paper, this is great—yay, queer success! But unfortunately, just because someone from the community made great strides, doesn’t mean that they’ve gone on to do great things post-success, and in RuPaul Andre Charles’ case, I wouldn’t exactly call cashing in on an oil empire a win.

In 2020, RuPaul revealed in a conversation with NPR that he has begun leasing out his Wyoming ranch to multiple oil companies for the purpose of fracking. And since he’s also allowing these companies access to the property’s water reserves, these companies can potentially poison the area’s water sources with harmful toxins that can affect communities and agricultural endeavors.

Apparently, this is quite normal for Wyoming, as the locals expressed. They went on to say it would have been more surprising if RuPaul and his husband didn’t invest in such a thing. In fact, the local responses to this revelation have ranged from lukewarm to excited, especially regarding the LGBTQ+ communities there. And when other ranchers were questioned, they stated that RuPaul and his husband had no real choice in the matter:

Unless you own 100% of the fossil fuel rights under your land – and the vast majority of ranches don’t – you can’t prohibit oil and gas development. You don’t have a choice. If you drive north out of Douglas, all the ranches are involved with the oil industry. RuPaul and [his husband Georges LeBar] could not say no to oil and gas development. I cannot say no on any of the ranch that I’m owner of. There’s a healthy tension between ranchers and the oil industry, and you just have to negotiate in good faith.

Jay Butler, RuPaul’s neighbor

Tough situation, I suppose, one that only reinforces the divide between those of us who live in metropolitan areas who don’t understand ranch life and those who are out in rural country dealing with Big Ag and the parasites that are oil companies. I wouldn’t know myself, I’m just a kid from Los Angeles.

But I do know why people outside of Wyoming are so upset. For one, if it isn’t obvious already, oil companies are killing the planet, and for no good reason. There are alternative energy sources that the government is all too eager to shut down, because oil and coal make the rich even richer, and so we enter one of the great struggles of our time: that a handful of people are killing the rest of us for their own material gain.

The other side of the coin, perhaps the biggest rub, is that we’ve come to this expectation that pioneers in the queer community are generally advocating for things that are tangibly progressive. And RuPaul especially helped make explorations of gender more accessible for those outside the community, paving the way for more learning opportunities to be had. He had all that power, has all that power, and yet he still, I suppose, is as fallible as anyone else when it comes to money and pressure. He and his husband saw an investment opportunity, and instead of considering the ramifications, not just to their images but to the environment at large, they caved to this pressure.

It’s a stain on an image that has already struggled to find footing in recent years, as times within the community have changed. As the dialogue regarding gender identity has expanded past the show’s initial release date, RuPaul has found himself in hot water as he’s failed to appropriately address various aspects of the trans experience, specifically, in regard to participation on his show. And while this can be chalked up to an “Old Gay vs. New Gay” problem (one that I, as a queer person with both older queer relatives and younger queer friends, can attest to), ultimately, RuPaul is a public figure with a great deal of power and reach, and what he says and does has a tangible effect on everyone who sees and hears him.

Therefore, knowing that such a public figure is doing something like this is disappointing at best, and genuinely harmful at worst. And at baseline, it’s just a shame. RuPaul generally does really cool things with his fame, from philanthropic efforts to appearances on shows like SNL.

Ah, well. At least the reddit fans are finding humor in this.

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Madeline Carpou
Madeline (she/her) is a staff writer with a focus on AANHPI and mixed-race representation. She enjoys covering a wide variety of topics, but her primary beats are music and gaming. Her journey into digital media began in college, primarily regarding audio: in 2018, she started producing her own music, which helped her secure a radio show and co-produce a local history podcast through 2019 and 2020. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz summa cum laude, her focus shifted to digital writing, where she's happy to say her History degree has certainly come in handy! When she's not working, she enjoys taking long walks, playing the guitar, and writing her own little stories (which may or may not ever see the light of day).