David Letterman's transgender joke ruffles feathers
- January 7, 2010 2:36 PM |
- By Arts Online
On Tuesday night's episode of his Late Show, David Letterman included a joke about Amanda Simpson, President Obama's new addition to the U.S. Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security. Simpson is reportedly the first openly transgender presidential appointee; as such, she has found herself in the position of serving as a trailblazing role model for others in the transgender community.
For Letterman, however, Simpson's gender identity provided fodder for a characteristically crass gag. As the deadpan host began to discuss Simpson's appointment as Senior Technical Advisor, he was interrupted by announcer Alan Kalter, who howled, "What? Amanda? Amanda used to be a dude?" Kalter then ran offstage in disgust. The implication: in the context of the joke, Kalter presumably had engaged in some romantic interactions with an individual without any knowledge that she was in fact a transgender woman.
Now groups like GLAAD and the U.S. Human Rights Campaign are demanding that Letterman apologize for what they consider a hateful, stereotype-affirming gag. In a letter sent to CBS yesterday, the HRC's Associate Director of Diversity for Transgender Issues claims that "the decision to ignore the fact that Ms. Simpson is incredibly well-qualified for this vital national security position and focus instead on her gender identity reflects transphobia."
The letter continues as follows:
You may not be aware that the punch line in your skit has been used as a defense in nearly every hate crime perpetrated against transgender people that has come to trial. ... Your skit affirmed and encouraged a prejudice against transgender Americans that keeps many from finding jobs, housing, and enjoying freedoms you and your writers take for granted every day. We ask that you apologize publicly to Ms. Simpson and the transgender community for this unfortunate episode.
In a blog post on the subject, lawyer Emma Ruby-Sachs makes the point that the average Late Show viewer has very little awareness of trans issues. Simpson's new position as a respected authority in the U.S. government, she explains, "may be the first time any of these viewers have seen a trans person as anything other than the butt of a joke or a victim of violence in the newspaper." And by allowing her gender to overshadow her qualifications, Letterman undermines that positive message.
Letterman's known for his tasteless humour (see also: his war of words with Sarah Palin), so his off-colour comments about Simpson don't come as much of a surprise. But what do you think, readers? Did he go too far with this joke?
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