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OPINION

Cancel culture isn’t criticizing a comedian. It’s being murdered for living as a trans person.

Dave Chappelle doesn’t deserve attention. Focus instead on another deadly year of anti-trans violence.

A protester in New York, 2020.John Minchillo/Associated Press

In a just nation, there would be more headlines about Kiér Laprí Kartier instead of the comedian getting richer by disparaging women like her.

Days before the release of Dave Chappelle’s latest Netflix special, in which he again denigrates the LGBTQ community and especially trans women, Kartier was shot to death in Arlington, Texas.

In a just nation, trans lives would be more than some rich comedian’s ugly punchline. They would matter.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, which tracks anti-LGBTQ violence, Kartier is at least the fifth trans woman murdered in Texas this year and one of at least 38 transgender or gender nonconforming people killed in the United States and Puerto Rico so far in 2021. At that alarming pace, the total is expected to surpass last year’s 44 deaths. And like Kartier, most of the victims were Black trans women, including Tierramarie Lewis and Diamond Kyree Sanders, who lived in Ohio, Chappelle’s home state.

It’s as unsurprising as it is frightening. Anti-trans rhetoric and policies that spiked during the Trump administration have continued to churn in Republican-led state legislatures.

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More than 100 bills restricting trans rights have been introduced this year. As LGBTQ Pride Month began in June, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida signed a law banning trans girls from playing on girls’ sports teams in schools. Governor Greg Abbott of Texas has compared gender-affirming surgery for trans youth to “child abuse.” Arkansas tried to stop gender-affirming health care for trans children until a judge issued a temporary ban on the law’s implementation.

When laws are specifically enacted to deprive people of their civil rights, it’s easier to dehumanize them. They are deemed unworthy of respect or empathy, making them more susceptible to harsh and ruthless treatment. That’s also true of hate speech whether it’s delivered in a politician’s soundbite or a comedian’s stand-up routine.

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Yet that’s not what Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s co-CEO, believes. Despite considerable backlash inside and outside of the streaming giant to Chappelle’s special “The Closer,” Sarandos is steadfastly defending it.

“With ‘The Closer,’ we understand that the concern is not about offensive-to-some content but titles which could increase real world harm (such as further marginalizing already marginalized groups, hate, violence etc.),” he said in a company-wide memo. “While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”

Sarandos, a straight white man leading one of the world’s biggest media companies, doesn’t care about Chappelle’s comedy as confirmation bias for LGBTQ hate. He’s immune to the racism, misogyny, and transphobia that endanger Black trans women. What he sees are fat returns on a reported $60 million deal with Chappelle. Sarandos is clearly all-in with the idea that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, since the special is currently one of Netflix’s most streamed shows. Hate sells.

Last year, Chappelle was praised for his special “8:46,” named for what was then believed to be the amount of time then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck, murdering him. (The actual time was nine minutes, 29 seconds.) Raw and somber, it’s a rumination on police violence against Black people, right-wing hate merchants who downplayed its pervasiveness, and the worldwide antiracism protests sparked by the killings of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.

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Now Chappelle claims he’s being targeted by cancel culture, sounding like the same conservatives he once railed against. And like them, he’s unaccustomed to accountability. Years ago on “Chappelle’s Show,” he mocked R. Kelly’s victims with a video and song about their sexual humiliation. There was little outrage, and Chappelle’s star only got brighter. That show made a lot of money for Comedy Central; it wasn’t about to deride him for demeaning Black women and girls who were sexually abused and assaulted.

Next Wednesday, Netflix’s trans employees and their allies are planning a walkout in protest of Chappelle’s special and Sarandos’s ignorant comments. He’s defending Chappelle’s “creative freedom,” and the comedian is certainly free to say what he wants. Yet what about the freedom of trans people to enjoy lives without harassment, cruelty, or violence?

That’s probably all Kartier, who was 21 and described by friends on social media as a “very strong, independent person” wanted. “Cancel culture” isn’t a transphobic comedian being criticized for amplifying his hate before a worldwide audience. It’s being murdered for simply living as a transgender person.


Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.