Late night talk show host David Letterman has been criticised over a skit mocking the appointment of a trans woman, Amanda Simpson, to a senior position at the US Department of Commerce by President Obama.
During his opening monologue, Letterman announced Simpson’s historic appointment and revealed that she is transgender, displaying a photograph of her.
The show’s announcer, Alan Kalter, then feigned “trans panic,” implying he had some prior relationship with Simpson but was not aware of her gender history, and ran yelling from the stage.
In response, a number of organisations have written to The Late Show and the CBS network asking for an apology.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest LGBT rights organisation in the US, said in a letter to the producers that it was disappointed with “the inappropriate and incendiary remarks made on The Late Show”.
It noted that “…the punch line in your skit has been used as a defence in nearly every hate crime perpetrated against transgender people that has come to trial.
“Your skit affirmed and encouraged a prejudice against transgender Americans that keeps many from finding jobs, housing, and enjoying freedoms you and your writers take for granted every day.”
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) also criticised the show: “Depicting people reacting in horror to transgender individuals is a dangerous stereotype for popular media to perpetuate because it contributes to the societal conception of transgender people as abnormal and deceptive, which all-too-often results in anti-transgender violence and/or discrimination when played out in reality,” it said.
The HRC asked that Letterman and the broadcaster apologise publicly to Simpson and the transgender community over the “unfortunate” incident.
Simpson (48) is believed to be the first openly transgender person to be appointed to a government post by a US President.