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Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman just spilled the tea on his ‘Drag Race’ exit

Canada’s Drag Race Screenshot.

Former Canada’s Drag Race judge Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman has opened up about his exit from the program. In a new interview, Bowyer-Chapman alleges racism from the Canadian Drag Race producers, as well as a toxic fanbase that rocked him to his core, prompted his abrupt exit from the program.

Bowyer-Chapman served as one of the permanent judges in the first season of the series, a spin-off of the popular American show RuPaul’s Drag Race. He exited the job prior to Season 2 following a campaign of online blowback for his comments as judge, although he cited “scheduling conflicts” as the official reason for his departure.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Bowyer-Chapman details how American producers convinced him to accept the job as a judge on the show, and the toxic work environment that drove him to leave.

Bowyer-Chapman reveals that Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato–executive producers of the American Drag Race–first convinced him to join the cast of the Canadian version. Upon arriving to set, however, Bowyer-Chapman encountered a new group of local producers, and very different attitudes about his involvement.

“I came into Canada’s Drag Race with a false sense of security because I had built that trust with the producers of the American show,” he said. “But this was a different set of producers. And I think they were trying to create something impactful and prove themselves along the way. As so, there are many instances where looking back I should have paid attention to my intuition and spoken up. And I didn’t.”

The problems began almost immediately, when a “white, gay, male showrunner pulled me aside, right before I was to meet the queens for the first time, and told me I was the ‘man-candy that was there for the queens to drool over.’ All of the judges had signed these very ironclad contracts stating that we would not fraternize with any of the contestants or the crew off-set,” he said. “That we would have no personal relationships, or dialogue, or contact with the queens whatsoever, other than when we were filming.”

In his introduction to the drag contestants, “the queens were flirting with me and being suggestive in some ways. My walls went up immediately. I realized there were different expectations being put on me that were not being placed on the rest of the cast, and nobody was going to protect me.”

The harassment from the showrunner continued, as Bowyer-Chapman’s boss explained he needed to play the role of the “sassy” judge on the panel. “And being told that from a white person, ever, as a Black person, it’s like a dog whistle,” he noted. “It’s like what is said of Black women and of Black queer men, meaning that you’re the hot-headed, opinionated one who’s going to tell it like it is and not give a shit about what anybody has to say. And that’s not who I am.”

Bowyer-Chapman also attributes that environment, at least in part, to a lack of Black talent behind the camera. “There really was no Black talent,” he alleged. “We’re walking onto a set of Canada’s Drag Race, day one, and the showrunner is telling me how diverse the crew was as he was giving me a tour. And I didn’t see one Black person.”

In a departure from the US version of the show, the Canadian version outfitted judges with earpieces to get suggested snarky comments from producers. Judges also got a list of suggested negative criticisms from producers ahead of time, and were required to record them so editors could drop them into a show at will. The policy made Bowyer-Chapman uncomfortable, as it forced both him and the other judges to constantly deliver negative criticism.

Related: What to Watch: Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman plays doctor, Truman Capote’s lost opus and 9/11 rexamined

“Even if we didn’t have anything negative to say, you had to come up with something negative,” he said.

Bowyer-Chapman says he realized the producers were portraying him as aggressively negative after the first episode. Tensions hit a new level several episodes into the season when Bowyer-Chapman had a terse exchange with the contestant Jimbo. The moment, in which Bowyer-Chapman told Jimbo to “use [time] better, maybe,” became an instant meme and prompted fans to create a Change.org petition to have Bowyer-Chapman fired from the show. The petition didn’t garner anywhere near its signature goal, but the moment started a campaign of online bullying that would follow Bowyer-Chapman the rest of the season. The advent of COVID-19 only added to the stress.

“My inbox was flooded with people telling me I was too mean,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was talking about. Just a lot of blatant racism. Their public profiles read ‘Black Lives Matter,’ but their DMs were all about how my Black life didn’t matter. All of us were locked in our homes, riddled with anxiety … and then to be experiencing this hate and verbal violence and emotional assaults, this just blatant racism at the same time from my own community? It was really hard.”

Amid the harassment, RuPaul himself reached out to comfort Bowyer-Chapman. He also advised the then-judge to leave Twitter over the ongoing harassment. 

“We had conversations about his experience in this world and this industry as a Black, queer man. As a drag queen,” Bowyer-Chapman recalled. “All the hate and trolling and vitriol he’s experienced his entire life. And it’s really heartbreaking, but he’s experienced it for so many years and he’s so clear-headed about it. He has learned to not take it personally.”

Still, when Season 2 of Canada’s Drag Race rolled around, Bowyer-Chapman opted to leave to accept a role on another series, though not before he “called a lot of attention to the bullsh*t that occurred behind the scenes and the stuff that happened online and their inaction.”

Crave, the network that airs Canada’s Drag Race, released a statement regarding Bowyer-Chapman’s departure and the campaign of online bullying. “In light of the social media attacks and bullying that Jeffrey experienced during season one, we put measures in place to mitigate this for future seasons.,” it read. “This includes a dedicated social media consultant to work with Crave to continue monitoring conversations in real-time.”

For Bowyer-Chapman, though, the lesson is clear: “That’s what happens when it’s only white, cisgender people behind the scenes making the decisions. That’s what happens.”

Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman can now be seen in the Disney+ sitcom Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.