Fired trans Netflix employee says Dave Chappelle controversy is just the tip of the iceberg

Vic Parsons October 22, 2021
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Trans supporters outside Netflix headquarters

Netflix employees and supporters gathered at a protest outside Netflix. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images).

A Black trans former Netflix employee has spoken out about battling transphobia after being fired by the streaming giant amid the ongoing row over transphobic content.

“Calls for respect, more representation and less harmful content at Netflix came long before Dave Chappelle’s latest comedy special,” wrote B Pagels-Minor, a former programme manager at Netflix, for the Washington Post in an op-ed entitled “I was fired from Netflix, but the fight against transphobia on screen and off will continue”.

Pagels-Minor was fired by Netflix last week, with the streaming giant claiming they shared information with the media on the economics behind and viewership of the controversial hour-long special by comedian Dave Chappelle.

Chappelle’s special, The Closer, has been widely criticised for transphobic and homophobic jokes, and prompted an ugly row at Netflix that saw a trans employee resource group organise a company-wide walkout on 20 October, which Pagels-Minor helped organise.

“In the middle of the recent backlash, I was still hopeful we could push for change, but Netflix leadership disappointed us,” they wrote. Hours after the walkout protest was announced publicly, Netflix fired Pagels-Minor.

“I was terminated,” they said. “I was told that while I was a well-respected member of Netflix, it seemed likely that I was the source of leaked information that appeared in the media – a charge I firmly deny.”

Former Netflix employee wants to show Black trans lives are valued

On 20 October, a protest in solidarity with trans and non-binary people also took place outside Netflix headquarters as employees walked out. Trans supporters were met by anti-trans and free-speech counter protestors, who carried signs reading “Jokes Are Funny”, “Cancel Culture sucks” and “Netflix Don’t Cancel Free Speech”.

At the protest, Pagels-Minor read out the list of demands written by Netflix employees, including calling on the company to invest more money in trans and non-binary content and to support more trans and non-binary creators. The demands also include adding anti-trans content warnings to anti-trans shows on Netflix.

“I want my child to grow up in a world where they see that their parent, a Black trans person – because I exist contrary to what the special says, contrary to what many people say – that I am valued and that I am an important person,” they said.

In their Washington Post op-ed, Pagels-Minor continued this point.

“When did this fight start?” they asked. “I could say it started in June 2020, when I shared a piece called “Black Trans Lives Matter” on my personal blog and with the internal Netflix community. ‘We must remember that trans folks have always been here and no matter how organised the assault against our humanity, we will not be erased,’ I wrote.”

They continued by explaining that last year, they and other trans Netflix employees shared their stories with Netflix content executives as “part of a conversation to facilitate more trans content on the platform”.

“I wasn’t the only one. Trans colleagues remained utterly professional as they also shared their stories. We asked to be seen as equals. We asked them to recognise our stories, to see that we deserve a place on the platform. We felt vulnerable, but at least they heard us,” Pagels-Minor said.

But recent events, they said, have shown that Netflix executives “took nothing away from those conversations”.

“The release of Chapelle’s special… happened without consulting the Trans* Employee Resource Group (ERG), of which I was a member and co-leader,” Pagels-Minor said. “The ERG might have recommended not releasing the special – but that if that wasn’t an option, we could have offered other ways to minimise the harm it could do to our community and to the company.

“But Netflix didn’t ask for guidance, deeply miscalculating the impact of this inflammatory, inaccurate and dangerous content.”

Employees have ‘no desire’ to ‘destroy Netflix’

Pagels-Minor added: “Many people want to boil down this to just ‘crazy libs’ obsessed with ‘cancel culture’ who want to harm Chappelle, but that could not be further from the truth.” The goal of the trans ERG is “to create parity in the content available at Netflix”, they said.

“Let me be clear: Within the Trans* team there is no desire to ‘destroy Netflix’ or ‘cancel Dave’.

“In many ways, the work Trans* has been doing for three years now is prescient. We know many young users find homophobic, transphobic, racist and xenophobic content repugnant. This content reflects tremendous injustice and causes ‘real world harm’ to the communities being targeted. There’s no longer tolerance for intolerance.

“Ultimately, this is not only a fight for the heart, soul and long-term future of Netflix. It’s also about ensuring that hate won’t have a prominent space in the new world that’s coming. We in the trans community know this is a marathon, and we will never stop fighting for equity and respect. Let this backlash be a lesson.”

Related topics: Dave Chappelle, netflix, Trans, transphobia

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