Shangela, star of HBO’s ‘We’re Here’ and contestant on ‘Drag Race,’ accused of sexual assault

Shangela in a high-collar magenta gown standing in a grove of trees.
Shangela in the HBO show “We’re Here.”

DJ Pierce, who performs as the drag queen Shangela on HBO’s acclaimed series “We’re Here,” denies a production assistant’s rape allegations.


The HBO Max reality series “We’re Here” stars three well-known drag queens — former “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestants Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O’Hara and Shangela — as they traverse small-town America and recruit locals to participate in one-night-only drag shows.

Sweet, funny and empowering, the show follows the queens as they connect with LGBTQ+ people who haven’t had many opportunities to be out and proud. The series has earned a Peabody Award nomination, won two Emmys and later this month is up for another GLAAD Media Award for outstanding reality program. The series has been a beacon of light during an extremely fractious time in America: In March, Tennessee, perpetuating falsehoods about drag queens as threats to children, became the first state to restrict drag shows in public spaces or anywhere minors might be present.

The creators behind “We’re Here” have long worked hard to fashion the series as an optimistic, loving rebuke to hate and prejudice, but now the show faces condemnation from an entirely different place: from within.

Subscriber Only Content

Subscribers get exclusive access to this story

We’re offering L.A. Times subscribers special access to our best journalism. Thank you for your support.

Explore more Subscriber Exclusive content.

Former “We’re Here” production assistant Daniel McGarrigle filed a lawsuit Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging that Darius Jeremy (DJ) Pierce, the actor who performs drag under the name Shangela, raped McGarrigle in a Louisiana hotel room following a 2020 crew party.

McGarrigle’s lawsuit describes an alleged post-party scene in which an inebriated McGarrigle fell asleep fully clothed in Pierce’s hotel room. McGarrigle awoke, the suit says, with his pants pulled down and with Pierce attempting to penetrate him. According to the suit, McGarrigle screamed “No” and tried to fight off Pierce but was overpowered, with Pierce allegedly telling McGarrigle, “I know you want it, and you’re going to take it.” The suit, which also names “We’re Here” production company Buckingham Television, alleges sexual assault, gender violence, false imprisonment and sexual harassment.

Through his lawyer, Pierce declined to answer questions but issued a statement strongly denying the accusations.

“I can’t begin to explain how hurt and disgusted I am by these totally untrue allegations. They are personally offensive and perpetuate damaging stereotypes that are harmful not only to me but also to my entire community,” he said. “An external investigation into this embittered individual’s claims previously concluded that they were completely without merit. This newest filing is nothing but an attempt to shake down both me and a well-regarded television company. No one should be fooled: It has no basis in fact or in law, and it will not succeed. As a hardworking and outspoken drag entertainer for more than a decade, I know that I am far from alone in battling ignorance, bigotry and prejudice, all of which played a role in the filing of this complaint. That is why I will fight this entirely meritless lawsuit and not allow it to destroy me and those I love, or harm the causes we all stand for.”

A representative for “We’re Here” issued the following statement to The Times:

“Buckingham Television, the production company for ‘We’re Here,’ received a complaint late summer 2021 regarding an incident that was alleged to have occurred in early 2020. Buckingham and HBO take the safety and well-being of personnel on our shows very seriously, and Buckingham immediately launched an investigation. The investigation concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support these allegations.”

McGarrigle’s suit cites Feb. 25, 2020, as the date of the “We’re Here” party. Cast and crew had gathered at El Toro, a restaurant and bar in Ruston, La., to celebrate the final day of production for the fifth episode of Season 1, the suit says.


Pierce “insisted” on buying McGarrigle drinks and continued to buy shots for various sections of the crew, including McGarrigle in every round, the suit says. After the party, Pierce invited McGarrigle back to his hotel room to help him pack for an early morning flight, the suit says.

McGarrigle felt sick on the ride to the hotel and vomited in the toilet upon arrival to Pierce’s hotel room, the suit says.

“Pierce rubbed his back as he vomited and brought him a cup of water,” the suit says. “After McGarrigle had finished throwing up, Pierce suggested he spend the night with him in his room. ... Sick and exhausted, McGarrigle agreed. He laid down in Pierce’s bed fully clothed, shoes and socks still on.”

McGarrigle woke up to a cold liquid being poured on his face, burning his eyes and nose, the suit says. McGarrigle alleges that the liquid was a type of poppers, a chemical inhalant that contains alkyl nitrites, sometimes used during sex to relax muscles and create a euphoric head rush. The suit alleges that McGarrigle felt weak, disoriented and overcome by fear.

“I tried to fight him off, but I was weak and he was stronger than me, and he held me down,” McGarrigle said in a Zoom interview with The Times, sobbing with his mother beside him offscreen for support.

McGarrigle did not immediately report the sexual assault to authorities or to Buckingham Television because he feared losing his job, says the suit, which listed his duties as including “serving as an assistant and driver for Pierce.”


“Instead, he tried to maintain a cordial relationship with Pierce, without changing the way he interacted or communicated with him,” the suit says.

Daniel McGarrigle
(Photo from Daniel McGarrigle)

The suit alleges that Pierce sexually harassed McGarrigle “on a daily basis” until McGarrigle resigned in July 2021, and that the harassment took the form of “asking him out for drinks, touching with lingering hands various parts of McGarrigle’s body such as his lower back and buttocks, face, stomach, knees, and thighs, while making suggestive comments about how good Plaintiff looked.”

Caleb Shoop, a production coordinator on Season 2 of “We’re Here,” said in an interview with The Times that McGarrigle told him about the alleged rape in summer 2021. Shoop said McGarrigle told him that he had not come forward with allegations because “he thought that it might keep the show from being what it is for the queer community.”

A second “We’re Here” crew member who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity said McGarrigle spoke of the alleged rape and warned about Pierce before they began working on Season 2 in March 2021.

McGarrigle’s brother, Ryan, worked as a production assistant on “We’re Here” for Season 1. McGarrigle eventually told his brother about the alleged rape after Ryan became Shangela’s wrangler (handling day-to-day needs) in Season 2, Ryan said. The brothers had been sharing a hotel room before the cast and crew party, and Ryan told The Times that his brother returned to the room the following morning looking as though he had been crying.


“He definitely was upset and he was crying and it was concerning,” Ryan said, adding that McGarrigle said he had spilled some poppers in his eyes.

“We’re Here” was co-created by entertainment lawyer and former GLAAD board co-chair Steven Warren and advertising creative director Johnnie Ingram , both of whom declined to be interviewed for this article.

When McGarrigle stopped working for the show in September 2021, he said, he called Ingram to report the alleged rape. McGarrigle said Warren called him shortly after, and he told Warren his account as well.

McGarrigle said he hoped that Ingram and Warren would replace Pierce with a different star for the show’s third season. When that didn’t happen, McGarrigle wrote to Ingram on Instagram in February 2022. The Times reviewed what McGarrigle said were screenshots of his Instagram messages to Ingram.

“Hey, I just wanted to thank you for listening to me when I told you what happened to me,” said one of McGarrigle’s alleged messages to Ingram. “I could tell that you and Stephen were genuinely concerned and that your first thought wasn’t the show.” McGarrigle went on to say he decided to drop legal action against the production company.

“I’m not a threat to the show. But that does make Shangela even more of a liability now,” McGarrigle wrote. “I can’t say I’m surprised that she’s still around. She is the poster girl for the show. I get that. But I would still start that process.”


He added: “You always made my brother and me feel welcome and included. … You and that family is the only reason I would not take it upon myself to out DJ [Pierce] for what he did to me. Because it would hurt my family and a show that is making a difference in my own LGBTQIA+ community.”

Nonetheless, McGarrigle said watching Shangela being celebrated as a queer icon was so upsetting that he felt compelled to speak out. By late 2022, Shangela was making news as a popular contestant on Season 31 of “Dancing With the Stars.” She made history as the first drag queen to compete in the U.S. iteration of the show, finishing fourth. In December, the Daily Beast ran a story headlined, “Shangela Is the Fearless Drag Queen America Needs Right Now.”

GLAAD and the TV academy were to honor HBO’s ‘We’re Here.’ Then came a lawsuit alleging sexual assault by the star, DJ Pierce, a.k.a. Shangela.

May 4, 2023

Around that time, McGarrigle decided to take his allegations public on Instagram, but he quickly pulled down his rape accusations after backlash from Shangela’s fans. McGarrigle’s friends and family advised him to file a criminal complaint instead — which he did.

McGarrigle filed a report in November 2022 with the Ruston Police Department. Det. Chris Davis confirmed to The Times that the report was part of an “ongoing investigation.”

In the roughly 12 hours that his Instagram post remained online, McGarrigle said, the accusations got picked up by a few gossip sites, and men he did not know reached out to allege that they too had been assaulted by Pierce. (The Times reviewed screenshots of messages in McGarrigle’s inbox but has not verified the veracity of the senders’ allegations.)

After McGarrigle shared his allegations with “We’re Here” co-creators Ingram and Warren in September 2021, McGarrigle said, the production companies Industrial Media and IPC (both part of Sony Pictures Entertainment), which made “We’re Here” in conjunction with HBO, opened an investigation. McGarrigle said that an investigator contacted him, but that he felt uncomfortable with the questions, as if he were being “grilled” and the investigation was “more self-serving ... than to help me.”


McGarrigle said he would not continue to participate without the presence of a lawyer representing him. He said he didn’t hear from an investigator again until he made the allegations on Instagram.

Leslie E. Wallis, an attorney with the firm Ogletree Deakins , which specializes in labor and employment counsel, was hired by the counsel for Industrial Media to investigate McGarrigle’s allegations. In a letter dated Jan. 26, 2023, she invited McGarrigle to talk and reminded him that she also had reached out to him “in 2021 following your conversation with Steve Warren about an incident with Shangela following the Ruston, LA episode of We’re Here.”

McGarrigle said he talked to the investigators and again felt uncomfortable by the process. In early March, he obtained a lawyer, Dan Gilleon. On March 21, Wallis reached out to Gilleon asking to speak with McGarrigle again, and Gilleon responded in early April that he intended to commence litigation and any further contact with McGarrigle would come in the form of his deposition.

On April 19, Wallis sent a brief email to Gilleon that the investigation had concluded.

“Based on the information we have obtained, we have been unable to corroborate Mr. McGarrigle’s allegations,” the email said. “Based on your message to us, we understand that your position is that neither Daniel McGarrigle nor his brother Ryan will speak to us outside of the litigation context to respond to our additional questions. If this changes, please let us know and we will reopen our investigation at that time.”

McGarrigle showed The Times a similar statement attributed to HBO, producers Ingram and Warren, and Buckingham Television.

McGarrigle said the culture war being waged against LGBTQ+ people made coming forward difficult. He worried his accusations will cast a shadow over “We’re Here” as well as over the beloved reality competition series “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” which featured Shangela in three seasons. He expressed deep concerns that political and social conservatives will weaponize the allegations and use them to perpetuate the notion that drag queens — and LGBTQ+ people in general — are sexually perverse and dangerous to children.


For Warren, an entertainment lawyer whose client list has included Leonardo DiCaprio, Charlize Theron and Martin Scorsese, the foray into television as an executive producer and co-creator of “We’re Here” stands as extension of the important work he accomplished as co-chair of GLAAD. In a 2021 article in Gay City News, Warren and Ingram, who are a couple, said the show’s title was a tribute to LGBTQ+ and AIDS activists including Act Up and Queer Nation — and a nod the chant, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!”

“It gives us enormous pride that we’re able to honor those who came up with that slogan by putting it onto a series that showcases exactly what everyone’s been fighting for — visibility and respect,” Warren told the gay newspaper, before adding what he ultimately wants for queer people: to “live their lives as honestly, as genuinely, as openly as possible.”