Hannah Saad | @hannah_saad21
For their 33rd annual speaker series last month, Tide Talks executives chose RuPaul, an American drag queen and television personality, as one of their featured revolutionary thinkers.
Every semester, Tide Talks, a UA student organization created for students to share their point of view on topics they are passionate about, hosts the Tide Talk speaker series. Each event features three to four student speakers who each present their own “revolutionary ideas” that challenge the student audience to think in new ways and encourage them to use their time on campus to push for societal and personal growth.
To market each Tide Talk, the organization’s executive team votes to promote three to four “revolutionary thinkers,” cultural icons who best represent the ideas being presented in the upcoming event. These figures are promoted on posters at the Tide Talks event, now shown on a computer screen before the virtual Tide Talks commence and on graphics on the Tide Talks Instagram account.
The most recent event occurred during Black History Month and featured Crystal Stone, a graduate student studying communications whose Tide Talk addressed the LGBTQ+ community, so RuPaul became a clear choice to be a revolutionary thinker.
RuPaul is unequivocally one of the most revolutionary thinkers in pop culture today. Since 2009, he has produced and been the host of the popular television show, “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
The show features queens from all over the nation and has launched the careers of some of today’s most influential drag queens, like Alaska 5000, Sharon Needles, Jinkx Monsoon, Katya, Trixie Mattel and more.
“RuPaul’s Drag Race” has now expanded to the United Kingdom, Canada and Thailand, launching drag into international popular culture.
RuPaul serves as a national figure for self love with his famous quote “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”
More importantly, however, he is a figure of empowerment for the LGBTQ+ community. He has made great success off the platform for owning who he is and never apologizing for it.
Due to the political turmoil the state of Alabama tends to face over topics like drag and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, it might seem unlikely that RuPaul would be marketed as a role model for UA students. But as it turns out, RuPaul has been on Tide Talks’ radar for quite some time. His name had been sitting on a “master list” of revolutionary thinkers that haven’t been used.
Katie Poetz, the Tide Talks assistant of speaker development, pushed to utilize him as a revolutionary thinker because of Stone’s topic.
Poetz believed RuPaul to be an especially fitting figure.
“I was not the first person to bring him to [the executive board’s] attention to be a revolutionary thinker in general, but I reminded them about him for this talk in particular,” Poetz said.
Megan Friend, a senior majoring in creative media and a former Tide Talks president, said the 33rd Tide Talks series was a moment to remember for the campus’s LGBTQ+ community, featuring both a revolutionary thinker to look up to and a speaker directly addressing LGBTQ+ issues.
“This was the first time that someone came to the interview with a very specific idea of really specifically wanting to speak on an issue that impacts the LGBTQ+ community, and that was something that really interested us because we don’t get a lot of speakers that are particularly speaking on that community,” Friend said.
The choice to promote RuPaul for this Tide Talk also had an effect on student drag exposure within Tuscaloosa.
Elektra Stryker, a local drag queen and senior nursing student, found himself getting involved in the drag community when he arrived in Tuscaloosa as a freshman.
“I saw a show and I’d never seen a drag queen ever before then, and it was kind of everything, and so after that I kept going,” Stryker said.
Stryker said RuPaul being named a revolutionary thinker by Tide Talks is a big step for the University that can lead to something great in the future.
“I really think that is good for the community to see, especially for people who aren’t comfortable with themselves or are trying to find out who they are no matter what their orientation is,” he said.