Shea Couleé And Goose Island Celebrate Pride With First Pitch At Chicago White Sox Pride Night
The 2021 Chicago Pride Parade scheduled for October 3—already pushed back once from its June date—has been canceled for the second straight year due to Covid-19 concerns.
But at the Chicago White Sox Pride game on Wednesday, Chicagoans were able to celebrate pride with RuPaul’s Drag Race alum and All-Stars winner Shea Couleé, who was on hand to throw out the first pitch.
Couleé, the onstage persona of Jaren Kyei Merrell, who grew up in Plainfield, Illinois, began her drag career in 2012. Her appearance at the Sox game was in partnership with Goose Island and Do312, with whom Couleé debuted her own citrus wheat ale, Shea Coul-Alé, in 2020.
This year, Goose Island and Couleé are releasing a new, custom brew, Shea Coul-Alé: Royal Edition, which is a tropical, pineapple-forward take on the original release. The footprint will also be much larger, with the beer being sold in bottle shops and retail locations across Chicago, New York, St. Louis and Philadelphia.
A portion of profits from the beer’s sales will benefit Couleé’s charity of choice, Brave Space Alliance—the first Black-led, trans-led LGBTQIA+ center located on the South Side of Chicago.
Baseball and beer alike have historically been spaces that are dominated by cisgender, straight white men. But Couleé’s visibility in these spaces is allowing her to reach a multitude of demographics, and she’s been thrilled at the results.
“I think what’s really important is making it known that this is a safe space for us to come and participate in as well,” Couleé—still clutching her baseball—told me after her perfectly executed first pitch. (She had never thrown a baseball before and considered going to pick one up and practice, but ultimately, she thought, “If Mariah can do it, so can I!”)
“Any and every time I’ve come to a sporting event I’ve always been caught up in the feeling of cheering for your team, and that doesn’t know any kind of racial gender or sexuality type lines,” she added. “We can all come together and root for our home team and have that be the main focus. And the more that sports teams and associations allow the LGBTQ community to know that this is a safe space for them, I think you’ll see us here more often.”
It’s the same with beer. But when Goose Island approached Couleé about teaming up, she realized what a powerful opportunity it could be.
“One of the reasons why I wanted to jump into this partnership, I was like, ‘Beer is not really a space that we’ve seen drag queens or gender non-conforming individuals go into,’” Couleé said. Her takeaway? “It’s so crazy that it just might work.”
Work, indeed. The presale for the first edition of Shea Coul-Alé—with its cotton candy-colored, iridescent label—sold out in less than an hour in 2020. “I saw a response from people in different communities, different walks of life, who I wouldn’t have expected to otherwise pay attention to me, and that was what I really really enjoyed,” Couleé said.
Proceeds from sales of the first Shea Coul-Alé benefited TransTech, an organization that seeks to empower trans, lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer people and allies with practical, career-ready skills. As with this year’s partner the Brave Space Alliance, it was essential that Couleé felt supported in whatever organization she chose to work with—and Goose Island gave that support completely, she said.
“Anytime I give any suggestions they’re always there and they’re always open, and I feel like as a queer, Black person, feeling heard is one of the most validating feelings that an individual can have,” Couleé said. “And that’s what I love so much about being a part of this process with Goose Island.”
Because it is a trans-, Black-led organization, Brave Space Alliance “are really operating out of their own experiences,” Couleé said, which “provides a more enriched sense of support for the people who really do need those resources.”
In this era of social justice awakening, many people say the words “Black Lives Matter” and “Trans Lives Matter” but don’t take any action to back up those sentiments—or don’t know how to. “Actions are what matter, and a lot of times people who have shared experiences know how to take the proper actions to pull those more marginalized people in their community up,” Couleé said.
Throwing out a first pitch was never something Couleé had on her bucket list—because she didn’t know she could put it on there, she said. Her hope is that other marginalized individuals can see her experience and realize that this is a space that will be welcoming to them. It dovetails with Couleé’s work with Goose Island in the beer space, too.
“One of my art teachers in high school would always say, ‘Here’s your comfort zone,’” Couleé said, holding her hands up in a circle, “‘and here’s where the magic happens,’’ indicating outside the circle with her finger. “And I feel like I definitely stepped out of my comfort zone with this, but I have been exposed to so much magic as a result.”