Transgender Winnipeggers condemn radio host for 'hate in his voice' in on-air comments

A Winnipeg radio personality will be off the air Tuesday morning, a day after making comments about transgender people that Rogers Media said were "insensitive" and "hurtful."

Rogers Media has invited a member of the transgender community to speak on show

Dave Wheeler, Winnipeg host of 92 CITI FM’s Wheeler in the Morning, will be off the air for the time being, Rogers Media confirmed while apologizing for his comments about transgender people. (@Wheelerj28/Twitter)

A Winnipeg radio personality was off the air Tuesday morning, a day after making comments about transgender people that Rogers Media said were contrary to its "standards and core values."

Dave Wheeler, host of 92 CITI FM program Wheeler in the Morning, won't be on the program for the time being, the communications company said Monday evening.

"The comments do not represent our standards and core values, and we apologize for the insensitive and hurtful remarks made by Dave Wheeler," Rogers Media spokesperson Andrea Goldstein wrote in an emailed statement to CBC News.

"We do not condone this type of behaviour, and we are taking steps to address this."

The statement follows Wheeler's comments Monday that likened transgender people to actors who "pretend to be different things."

"Kind of like what you're doing, really, in the grand scheme of things," Wheeler said during the program.

The conversation started with a discussion about Scarlett Johansson, who recently dropped out of playing a transgender man after facing backlash.

Rogers Media confirmed it has invited a transgender community member to speak on the show about issues faced by transgender individuals.

CBC News could not reach Wheeler for comment Monday.

The host was previously suspended following controversial YouTube videos he was involved in in 2016 that were criticized as racist and sexist.

The videos stirred some Winnipeggers to protest at the CITI FM station and call for Wheeler to be fired.

'You could hear the hate in his voice'

Social media posts condemning Wheeler's comments circulated on Facebook Monday afternoon.

Kara Fraser, who describes herself as an ally, said she reached out to Wheeler over Facebook Messenger and was disturbed by his response. She posted images of their conversation, and the images were shared widely.

In the conversation, Wheeler said he isn't transphobic and doesn't hate transgender people. He also reiterated his statement that transgender people who have not "made the full transition surgically" are "playing pretend."

Theo DeSilva, a transgender man in Winnipeg, said he first learned about the comments after his girlfriend posted them to Facebook.

"I was disgusted."

DeSilva said hearing that kind of sentiment on-air could make it seem OK to listeners.

​"I think it's creating a culture of hate and creating a culture of fear in Winnipeg. I think it's hate speech. I don't think it has any place in Winnipeg."

Xavier Raddysh said he was most struck by the tone Wheeler used as he spoke about transgender people. (Rudy Gauer/CBC)

Xavier Raddysh, who is transgender, said he also learned about the remarks through Facebook and was struck by Wheeler's tone.

"You could hear the hate in his voice," Raddysh said, "that he believes that we're just social justice warriors who cry, when a lot of the time we're doing more for the communities than people like him who are just complaining about us."

He said he has been able to ignore attitudes like Wheeler's, but it's concerning to hear it expressed by somebody with such a large platform.

"Radio, people listen every morning on their drives to work, right? If that's their first touch with trans people or the queer community, that is derogatory and hateful, then that's what we're going to get from them eventually."

Calls to see host fired

Rogers Communications — the parent company of Rogers Media — listed inclusion and diversity as goals under its "strategic priorities" in its 2017 Corporate Social Responsibility Report. Rogers subsidiary Fido is also one of the 2018 sponsors of Toronto's Pride Parade.

Raddysh said if Rogers wants to live up to that commitment, it needs to take action.

At minimum, DeSilva said, Wheeler should take sensitivity training, but he doesn't really think that's enough. He and Raddysh both would like to hear an apology from the host, although DeSilva said he's not confident that will happen.

Ultimately, both Raddysh and DeSilva said they'd like to see Wheeler fired.

"You're going to put him on suspension again and again and again until we try and forget about it, but that's not going to happen. He needs to have his behaviour reprimanded," DeSilva said. "You can't support us one month of the year."

Transcript and audio from Wheeler in the Morning podcast July 16 (Warning: offensive language): 

Excerpt from Wheeler in the Morning: July 16, 2018 1:44

Rena Jae: So … do you remember how Scarlett Johansson had signed onto that movie Rub and Tug?

Dave Wheeler: No but we're into that!

Dave Turnbull: But we're interested.

Wheeler: You piqued it.

Rena: It's cute that you're saying that now because the movie is about her playing a transgender man. Do you remember we had talked about it this a long time ago when she had signed up for it?

Wheeler: No, I'm blurring lines here because I read an article saying that she stepped out of the project for whatever reason I can't remember if —

Rena: Well she just stepped out of it over the weekend. Now she's officially out of it because of all the backlash that she's got because these fans are mad about her being cast as someone who is born as a woman but identifies as a man. So … yeah ... and apparently her initial response to the criticism was like, pretty bad. She was saying that she can rightfully go after these. That, people were saying there should be actual trans actors ....

Wheeler: Oooooh my God!

Rena: ... that should be going for this kind of role.

Wheeler: Geeeeez …

Rena: That are women who are transitioning to men.

Wheeler: Uhhhhh ...

Rena: Anyway, so she dropped out of the whole project all together.

Wheeler: Wow! I'm just so ... and I don't think I'm the only one. I am so confused! I am so confused by the whole transgender community. I mean literally, there is nothing you can do to make them happy.

Rena: Yeah. you wanna accept.

Wheeler: Nothing! Not a goddamn thing! Yeah. Nothing! People act and pretend to be different things. Kinda like what you're doing! Really! In the grand scheme of things.

Rena: Oo.

Uncomfortable laughter from Turnbull and Rena.

Turnbull: I wouldn't go that far.

Rena: Yeah. Maybe take that back! Maybe take that back!

Turnbull: But I do agree with you. It's like ... it shouldn't be ... it shouldn't be ... Yeah. You don't need a transgender actor to play a transgender …

Wheeler: Right! Goddamn!

Turnbull: ... on screen. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is one of the cult classic musical movies, and they had transgender characters in that play and there was absolutely no backlash whatsoever about Neil Patrick Harris playing …

Rena: People like to just complain to complain nowadays.

Wheeler: No kidding.

Rena: It's getting out of control.

Wheeler: What a bunch of snowflakes.

With files from Austin Grabish