Chicago Drag Superstar, Activist, and Queer Icon Shea Couleé Just Launched a Beer
“She's here, she's queer, and she's a beer.”
If you know about drag queens, you know about Shea Couleé. The superstar from Chicago was a fan-favorite powerhouse in season 9 of RuPaul’s Drag Race and is back to slay on the current season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars.
In addition to starring in the television series, Shea is a recording artist who just released a new song called “Collide,” an activist for the queer community and people of color, and now, a beer maker. Made in partnership with Goose Island, another Chicago icon, Shea Coul-Alé is “a lemony, bright wheat ale that celebrates the LGBTQIA+ community and gives back.” A portion of the proceeds benefits TransTech, an organization “dedicated to creating comprehensive vocational training, and job placement for Trans women looking to get a head start in the workforce.”
With social distancing on the mind, we gave Shea a ring to discuss how it feels to have a beer named after you, how Pride looks different this year, what it means to be a queer Black icon in the midst of a movement, and why Chicago is the “bomb.com.”
Travel + Leisure: How did your beer, Shea Coul-Alé, come to be?
Shea Couleé: "Last year, Do312 reached out to me and they had already started the conversation with Goose Island about wanting to create a bridge between [these] completely different communities: Drag Race enthusiasts, drag queen enthusiasts, and beer enthusiasts. So when they brought the idea to me, I was like it's kind of wild that they think this will work, because normally when you think of drag queens, you don't really think about [them] as beer drinkers — we're usually cocktail kind of gals. And myself not being the biggest beer drinker in the world, [I] saw it as an opportunity to diversify my brand in a really interesting way."
What does Shea Coul-Alé taste like?
"It's got a nice light flavor to it. It's great for summer, but at the same time, it's not too hoppy. It's full-bodied and not for people that are really big beer enthusiasts. What I like about the beer most is that I feel that it’s [for] a lot of different palettes. It's a very friendly beer."
Why did you decide to partner with TransTech and what does the organization do?
"The first person I thought of was Angelica Ross. She and I have been friends for a long time. She's the founder of TransTech. And even when I was coming up being a baby queen, she was always somebody in the community that was really putting forth so much effort, amplifying and uplifting experiences for Trans people. TransTech [gives] training and resources for Trans individuals to get into the workforce, because they face a higher discrimination rate. It's really important because we're contributing to people's livelihood — we're helping them get more opportunities and better chances to take care of themselves."
Pride looks different for everyone around the world this year, considering COVID-19 and the protests against racial injustice. What does Pride look like for you?
"This Pride, especially with everything that's been going on politically, it's really calling back to the foundation of the LGBTQIA movement, where it began in the Stonewall riots of '69. For me, what I'm really trying to focus on [during] Pride is investing in my community, trying to make sure that I am here to support and get resources to people who need the most."
Are there any ways you're hoping to honor Pride in Chicago this year?
"Chicago is slowly in the process of opening back up. [We’re] exercising caution, keeping down the numbers, and avoiding large groups, which, unfortunately for the typical model of a drag queen, it is our goal to gather large groups of people. So what I'm trying to do this Pride — when I’m trying to celebrate — is really just focus on advocacy. I feel like that's important.
And also with Drag Race All Stars airing right now, being a very visible queer Black person is a form of advocacy for me. It’s being able to be on such a huge platform and...share my story with people all across the world."
What is it like returning to RuPaul’s Drag Race for season 5 of All Stars?
"It's been such a delight. I've always been a fan of Drag Race — it inspired me to really get out there and get my feet wet and try drag. And to be able to be part of this amazing legacy is really humbling, [especially] watching the fans who have been super-supportive. I'm just glad that I can be present in this time to provide any type of escape and inspiration for the LGBTQ community and specifically ones of color."
What would you say to someone who hasn’t encountered a drag queen or doesn’t understand the culture?
"I would say that for anyone who is not familiar with the culture...look past the hair, the heels, and the attitude, and look for the heart because that's really the foundation of the show. There's just so much heart that goes into making it — the stories of the girls, the contestants, and what we're doing while we're there. I think now it's more important than ever for us to be able to share our stories, [and] be vulnerable and open about our experiences, because it leads to further inspiration and liberation."
Why do you represent Chicago?
"There's such an amazing support system here in Chicago that I just literally can't get away from. I love it here so much. I love how people are encouraging. I love that people keep it real. You know, it's the Midwest, so we're nice people, but we also don't tolerate much bullshit. And that's very much a reason why I love Chicago. Not to mention the fact that I am so indebted to this amazing, amazing community as they [have helped foster] me into becoming the drag queen that I am today. And I just hope that I can also be a representation for Chicago drag because I think Chicago drag is the bomb.com.
"Collide" by Shea Couleé & Gess featuring Mykki Blanco is out now. And be sure to keep an eye on Shea’s YouTube channel for a new cooking show, Cooking With Couleé, coming out soon. More information about Shea Coul-Alé can be found on Goose Island’s website."
Editor’s Note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.