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Saturday Night Live (SNL) Joke Sparks Transphobia Debate

A recent segment on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” sparked swift backlash and allegations of transphobia from some observers. In the segment, SNL’s Michael Che referenced President Joe Biden’s recent executive orderreversing the Trump administration’s ban on openly transgender service members in the military.

The Joke

“It's good news, except Biden is calling the policy, ‘don't ask, don't tuck,’ which is not good news,” Che said. The joke is a reference to the infamous “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prohibited homosexuals from serving openly in the military from 1993 to 2010.

The Debate

In an article for NBC News, Cynthia Silva discusses some of the debate triggered by the joke. Some trans people and allies called the joke crude and insensitive. Here’s one example reported by Silva:

“This is gross,” Twitter user Robyn Sheopersad wrote. “When can trans people just exist without their genitalia being the topic/joke ugh.”

But others argue we should accept comedy for what it is and not take it too seriously. Silva also reported input from Flame Monroe, a self-described comedian “who happens to be transgender.” Monroe defended Che’s right make light of current events. “What Michael Che said has no validity because who cares about that? I don’t want comedians to be censored, so I’m not going to bash him about that,” she said of Che. “As a comedian, I want to be able to say what I want to say, especially when it’s part of what is happening right now.”

Importance of Inclusion

Another person interviewed for Silva’s piece brought up an important point about the role diversity and inclusion have in how media, and businesses in general, speak about and interact with diverse communities. Natalie Drew is a former army infantry sergeant who is transgender. “I’m confident if there were any trans person that joke had to be? run by, they would have been like ‘No, we can’t do that!’” Drew said.

This is an important point we’ve made many times about inclusiveness. Inclusiveness goes far beyond just checking diversity boxes. It’s about giving voices and decision-making power to those diverse employees, partners, etc. on your team. And that also means understanding that diverse groups aren’t monolithic, and tokenism won’t achieve the goals of diversity and inclusion.

Natalie Drew said she believed if there had been a trans person in the room, Che’s joke wouldn’t have made it on air. But what if that trans person was Flame Monroe, the comedian who defended Che’s joke?

Saturday Night Live has always been edgy, and many would argue that edginess is simply a part of comedy. We’re not here to evaluate the quality or offensiveness of late-night comedy, but rather to call attention to insights this incident provides with respect to diversity and inclusion. It’s impossible to please everyone all the time. One person’s comedy is another’s bigotry; one person’s respectful sensitivity is another’s censorship.

Only by sincerely embracing inclusiveness can companies hope to gain a true understanding of how words and actions may be perceived by the diverse communities they interact with. Be inclusive!

Recommended Reading

Inclusion: The New Competitive Business Advantage __________________________________________________________

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