January 6, 2010 | by Joshua Lynsen
Punching back on the punch line

The Human Rights Campaign is rightly calling “inappropriate and incendiary” a “Late Show with David Letterman” sketch Tuesday that mocked the presidential appointment of an openly transgender woman.

In letters today to Letterman and Nina Tassler, the president of CBS Entertainment, HRC seeks public apologies to Amanda Simpson, who holds a senior position at the U.S. Department of Commerce, “and the transgender community for this unfortunate episode.” The full text of the letter is reproduced below.

Simpson, believed to be the first openly transgender woman to win a presidential appointment, recently became senior technical advisor to the Department of Commerce, where she will work directly with the Under Secretary of Commerce on international trade and national security issues. She’s been quoted as saying that “being the first sucks,” but has rightly emphasized it was her merits that landed her the job.

It was deplorable that the “Late Show” resorted to having the show’s announcer, Alan Kalter, feign some panicked response upon learning Simpson is transgender. Perhaps if Kalter actually knew Simpson, as his poorly conceived routine implies, he’d know she’s the right woman for the job.

Letter from Human Rights Campaign Associate Director of Diversity for Transgender Issues Allyson Robinson:

January 6, 2010

David Letterman
Late Show with David Letterman
1697 Broadway
New York, NY 10001

CC: Nina Tassler
President, CBS Entertainment
51 West 52nd Street
New York, NY 10019

Dear Mr. Letterman,

I am writing on behalf of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, to express my disappointment over the inappropriate and incendiary remarks made on The Late Show with David Letterman last night on the appointment of Amanda Simpson to a senior position in the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The decision to ignore the fact that Ms. Simpson is incredibly well-qualified for this vital national security position and focus instead on her gender identity reflects transphobia. Ms. Simpson’s appointment represents meaningful progress for the LGBT community and in particular transgender Americans who have faced significant and well-documented discrimination in the workplace and their communities.

You may not be aware that the punch line in your skit has been used as a defense in nearly every hate crime perpetrated against transgender people that has come to trial. For example, the “trans panic” defense was infamously used by Allen Ray Andrade, who was convicted in 2009 of beating 19-year-old Angie Zapata to death with a fire extinguisher after learning of her gender history. According to media reports, it has also been the main defense employed by Juan A. Martinez for the killing of Jorge Steven López Mercado, 19, in Puerto Rico last November.

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. We ask that you apologize publicly to Ms. Simpson and the transgender community for this unfortunate episode.

Sincerely,

Allyson Robinson,
Associate Director of Diversity for Transgender Issues
Human Rights Campaign

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