'I just feel on television I can reach more people'

By Marc Snetiker
June 15, 2017 at 02:00 PM EDT
Credit: Tony Kelly for EW

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After performing at the seminal 1993 LGBT march on Washington, RuPaul’s position as an activist icon for gay rights and representation was crystallized — yet in his decades as one of pop culture’s most important gay figures, RuPaul has never had his sights set on politics.

And in 2017, he still doesn’t. He especially doesn’t.

Nowadays, it has become common practice to ask responsible celebrities the completely irresponsible question of whether they would ever consider a run for office. (The question is irresponsible because entertaining that frivolity is a large reason why we’re in a situation where we need magazine covers devoted to LGBTQ awareness in the first place.) But when your cover star is RuPaul and he’s in full glam drag behind a podium emblazoned with the insignia of the country’s highest office, you do your national duty and ask RuPaul whether he would ever take his peerless voice and amplify it in Washington.

“I understand the drive to want to do that because you can make changes in Congress,” Ru says. “But there’s so much mishegoss and red tape and… politicking. It’s just not a fun experience. It would beat you down. It’s not for everybody. It’s not for me. I wouldn’t want to be in a public office. I just feel on television I can reach more people.”

To that point, Ru cites a conversation he had with Marianne Williamson, a best-selling spiritualist author who made an unsuccessful congressional bid in California in 2014: “I had her on RuPaul Drives and I remember saying, ‘You know, you realize you have more power in the rooms that you lecture in than you could in the bureaucracy of Washington, D.C., right? You actually have more power to reach more people.’ And I really believe that.”

From his unique podium in pop culture, Ru has always played a role in putting the spotlight on gay rights, sometimes just by the sheer virtue of his own identity. “Every time I bat my eyelashes, it’s a political act,” is the joke he often shares, and it’s true. He trailblazes by trial and error. He’s also stirred up controversy over the years for his use of gender pronouns and trans language. And when Ru stepped out of the spotlight in the early 2000s, he partly owed that absence to the political climate and how useful he felt he could be as a voice during that era: “There was a change in the air, politically, and a hostility I could feel. I knew I had to step back. In the George W. Bush years I remember being on talk shows and trying to explain certain things and I could feel this wall going up and I knew, don’t exhaust yourself. Know where to spend your energy. And I had to save my energy so I could be doing what I do now.”

(To the point of exhaustible energy, Ru says it certainly applies to the current administration: “What’s happening now, they’re weakening more and more every day, because it’s just not going to go anywhere. It just can’t.”)

So no, you won’t see RuPaul 2020 posters plastered on a City Near You, but — CHECK OUT THIS SEGUE! — there is one race he indisputably knows he’d win. It happens to be the one for which he’s the executive producer, Emmy-winning host, judge, jury, and executioner, but nevertheless. RuPaul is confident he would walk away with the crown and scepter (from Fierce Drag Jewels, no less) if he ever competed as a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race.

“Every season of Drag Race, there’s only one winner and that is RuPaul,” he laughs. “I would win Drag Race and I know why I would win Drag Race. Because personality, matched with ambition and likability, is a winning combination. It’s won for me all of these years. I’m not the greatest singer, not the greatest actor, I’m not even the greatest drag queen, but you put all those things together and I’m the clear-cut winner.” If only national caucuses could be such a breeze.