On January 3, 2012, ABC is set to premiere Work It, a sitcom about two men who dress as women to secure employment. At a time when the transgender community routinely finds itself in the cultural crosshairs, a show like this could put the transgender community in an even more dangerous position.
On December 21, 2011, GLAAD and HRC, two national LGBT advocacy organizations, placed a full-page ad in media industry publication Daily Variety as part of a campaign to educate the media industry and the general public around the show. The organizations also confirmed a meeting with ABC executives will take place to discuss the sitcom.
According to ABC, ‘Work It’ centers on two unemployed men who have “learned the hard way that the current recession is more of a ‘man-cession’ and their skills aren’t in high demand.” One finds out that a pharmaceuticals company is hiring sales reps, but only female sales reps. He goes to the interview dressed in heels, a skirt, and makeup and gets hired as a woman.
While the show’s pilot does not explicitly address transgender people, many home viewers unfamiliar with the realities of being transgender will still make the connection. As the ad states, by encouraging the audience to laugh at the characters’ attempts at womanhood, the show gives license to similar treatment of transgender women.
“This show could contribute to the high levels of job discrimination that transgender Americans face and will give license for people to mock and ridicule those whose gender expression might not fit with what society considers the norm,” said GLAAD’s Acting President Mike Thompson. “The media should use this as an opportunity to address the huge number of inaccurate or offensive images of transgender people in news and entertainment today.”
“As a network with a record of positive portrayals of LGBT people, ABC should know better than to air this offensive program that even has the potential to jeopardize the safety of transgender people,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese.
A recent report on the discrimination that transgender Americans face from the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force found that:
- Transgender Americans can be legally fired in 34 states today simply for being who they are.
- 97% of self-identified transgender people reported being harassed or abused at work.
- 26% reported losing their jobs because they are transgender.
Critics have also pointed out the show’s offensive nature with regard to unemployed people and people of color, including comments from a character who says in the pilot: “I’m Puerto Rican. I would be great at selling drugs.” The show’s discussion of women in the workplace has also come under fire after a pharmaceutical rep explains why the company is only hiring women by saying, “We find the doctors prefer to ‘nail’ the drug reps more when they are girls.”
Previously the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, the Transgender Economic Empowerment Initiative and the Transgender Law Center spoke out against the show’s promos. “This show is debuting at a time when women continue to face high rates of workplace discrimination and get paid less than men, and when transgender and gender non-conforming people face extraordinary levels of violence and discrimination in their communities and the workplace,” said Masen Davis, Executive Director of Transgender Law Center.
ABC should not air this show – plain and simple. At the very least, Work It is offensive and insulting. At worst, the show is downright dangerous and sends a message that transgender people are to be laughed at, or are somehow less-than. This show would be a setback for transgender Americans, and for everyone who believes that all people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.
Human Rights Campaign launched an online action for community members and allies to contact ABC and share concerns, which you can participate in by visiting their page here.
GUEST POST FROM HRC AND GLAAD
HRC President Joe Solmonese and GLAAD Acting President Mike Thompson want ABC to understand why “the show would be a setback for transgender Americans, and for everyone who believes that all people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.” You can read the full post at HuffPost Gay Voices.
ADDTIONAL STATEMENTS FROM LGBT ADVOCATES
GLAAD – You can read GLAAD’s blog post on Work It here.
Transgender Law Center - In conjunction with the San Francisco LGBT Center and the Transgender Economic Empowerment Initiative, the TLC noted in their statement that the economic realities for transgender people are a far cry from Work It’s premise.
Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center – The LA GLC operates their own Transgender Economic Empowerment Program, and also cited the realities of workplace discrimination for transgender people.
Massachusetts Transgender Coalition – The MTC advocates for an end to discrimination on behalf of the transgender community, and invites readers to call or send a letter to ABC with the information provided.
Pam’s House Blend – Transgender advocate Autumn Sandeen explains why it’s time to retire the “temporary transvestite genre” in comedy, and why the premise of the show is disrespectful to her and her peers.
Huffington Post – LGBT advocate Cathy Renna explains why Work It is harmful to more than just the transgender community, while Transgender Law Center’s Mark Snyder discusses why the show’s print ad is also highly problematic.
The Advocate - Executive Editor Diane Anderson-Minshall says that “while the characters on Work It are clearly cross-dressing men, not transgender women, the average American doesn’t understand the difference. That’s what makes the show so dangerous.” and discusses the disproportionate rates of unemployment, violence and poverty that transgender women face.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force - Read The Task Force’s blog post on Work It here.