Trans Netflix Employees Walk Out Amid Chappelle Controversy

Ashlee Marie Preston speaks during a rally in support of the Netflix transgender employee walkout to protest the streaming of comedian Dave Chappelle’s new comedy special.
REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

LGBTQ advocates led a rally outside of Netflix offices in Los Angeles on October 20 in support of trans Netflix employees who walked off the job to protest Dave Chappelle’s transphobic comments in his comedy special, “The Closer.”

The rally, which also focused on Netflix’s handling of workplace issues stemming from the controversy, drew significant media attention and added to the fallout over a comedy special that has since led to the suspension of one trans employee and the firing of another after they both stood up against “The Closer.”

Trans activist Ashlee Marie Preston organized the rally and decried the special as harmful toward the transgender and non-binary community.

“Artivists/Creators, grassroots organizers, public figures, and supporters spanning multiple communities are coming together to underscore the importance of responsible content offerings that prioritize the safety and dignity of all marginalized communities,” Preston wrote on Instagram. “We aim to use this moment to shift the social ecology around what Netflix leadership deems ethical entertainment, while establishing policies and guidelines that protect employees and consumers, alike.”

According to the 19th, protesters faced counter-protests calling for Netflix to keep the transphobic special on the platform, though the company has resisted demands to remove it. According to the 19th, hecklers at the protest yelled out saying “jokes are funny.”

During the special, Chappelle boldly announced that he is a trans-exclusionary radical feminist or TERF and stated that “every human being on Earth had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on Earth. That is a fact.”

LGBTQ advocates are standing in solidarity with trans employees at Netflix amid the company’s support of a transphobic comedy special.REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Dahlia Belle, a representative from Trans Lifeline, a suicide hotline for the transgender and non-binary community, was among those who condemned Chappelle’s speech at the protest. Others — including prominent LGBTQ acting stars — showed virtual support through social media.

“I stand with every employee at Netflix using their voice to ensure a safe and supportive work environment,” “Schitt’s Creek” star Dan Levy said in a written statement on Twitter. “I’ve seen firsthand how vital television can be when it comes to influencing the cultural conversation. That impact is real and works both ways: positively AND negatively. Transphobia is unacceptable and harmful. That isn’t a debate.”

Elliot Page also stepped up on Twitter, writing, “I stand with the trans, non-binary, and BIPOC employees at Netflix fighting for more and better trans stories and a more inclusive workplace #NetflixWalkout.”

The LGBTQ media monitoring group GLAAD praised the protesters and Netflix employees.

“As the #NetflixWalkout and Stand in Solidarity rally begin, GLAAD stands with and thanks the Netflix employees, allies, and LGBTQ and Black advocates calling for accountability and change within Netflix and in the entertainment industry as a whole,” GLAAD wrote in a tweet. “The Netflix employees’ asks for long-term investment in content from trans, non-binary, and BIPOC creators, fully inclusive spaces for trans and LGBTQ BIPOC employees, and accountability when content causes harm, should be best practices for Netflix.”

After the rally, transgender employees who participated in the company walkout planned to deliver a letter to Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos, who has faced criticism for his role in maintaining the show and punishing employees. The letter was said to include demands to make Netflix more inclusive of trans and non-binary workers after Netflix suspended and then reinstated software engineer Terra Field, who blasted the company in a viral Tweet thread earlier this month, and fired a Black transgender employee who is currently pregnant and organized the latest action at the company, the Verge reported.

“Acknowledge the harm and Netflix’s responsibility for this harm from transphobic content, and in particular harm to the Black trans community; Add a disclaimer before transphobic titles that specifically flag transphobic language, misogyny, homophobia, hate speech, etc. as required,” the letter notes. 

Sarandos was also recently slammed by lesbian comedian Hannah Gadsby after he referred to her when defending Netflix.

“Hey Ted Sarandos!” Ms. Gadsby wrote. “Just a quick note to let you know that I would prefer if you didn’t drag my name into your mess. Now I have to deal with even more of the hate and anger that Dave Chappelle’s fans like to unleash on me every time Dave gets 20 million dollars to process his emotionally stunted partial world view. You didn’t pay me nearly enough to deal with the real world consequences of the hate speech dog whistling you refuse to acknowledge, Ted.”

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