Today GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign teamed up on an op-ed on Huffington Post’s Gay Voices, and an ad was placed in Variety to educate the media industry and the public about the potential harm caused to the LGBT community by the upcoming ABC sitcom “Work It.” At right is the ad. Here’s an excerpt of the guest post by HRC’s Joe Solmonese and GLAAD’s Mike Thompson, who also called for ABC not to air the show:
The so-called “comedy” of Work It is based on the premise that people who were born male but encounter challenges in presenting themselves as women is inherently funny. The problem is that some transgender women may find themselves in this situation, at least temporarily, during the early stages of their transition, due to the prohibitively high costs of transition-related medical care and widespread insurance inequities. Transgender Americans — who can be legally fired in 34 states today just for being who they are — face an inordinate amount of workplace discrimination that images like those on Work It perpetuate.
The premise of this show is repulsive, and ABC — a network that routinely scores highly in GLAAD’s annual TV reports and whose parent company, Disney, receives a perfect 100-percent score from HRC’s Corporate Equality Index — should know better than to air it. ABC is a network that has brought us groundbreaking shows featuring LGBT personalities, like Modern Family and Brothers & Sisters, and it is the network that most recently featured Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars. LGBT community members and youth have often looked to ABC’s programming for positive images that build acceptance, not images that make jokes of our lives and the challenges that many in the community face. ABC’s own “Stand Together” project, featured on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, aims to put an end to bullying nationwide. But all the goodwill in the world doesn’t justify putting images like Work It in the living rooms of millions.
By encouraging the audience to laugh at the characters’ attempts at womanhood, the show condones similar treatment of transgender women. Unfortunately, such behavior needs no encouragement: 97 percent of self-identified transgender people reported being mistreated at work, and 26 percent — that’s one in four — reported losing their jobs because they are transgender.
Though characters who challenge traditional gender norms have the potential to expand how an audience thinks about itself, the clumsy, offensive portrayals and marketing of this series are clearly not accomplishing this. By trying to create humorous scenes of these characters putting on makeup and feminine clothing, for example, Work It makes similar implications about transgender women’s identities and their ways of expressing them, while also reinforcing the erroneous notion that transgender women are not “real” women.
It’s not just the LGBT community that will be insulted by the show, either. Besides spreading the dangerous misconception that it’s easier for a woman to get a job, the show resorts to some of the most outdated and sexist stereotypes about women you’re likely to find on television. Work It isn’t above racism, either, as demonstrated when the main character’s best friend Angel remarks, “I’m Puerto Rican. I would be great at selling drugs!”
My guess, with the investment made, ABC will air “Work It” rather than shelve it. I haven’t seen the pilot, so I cannot comment on the content, other than to say that it sounds like something that will get the cancellation hook fairly quickly. The real discussion is how/why this got all the way to production in the first place at ABC? Who greenlighted this, expecting no blow-back from the LGBT community? I think it illustrates that trans issues are still poorly understood, and gender issues still receive ham-handed treatment in the media. We’ll see how ABC responds.
* Work It (by Autumn Sandeen)