Wendy Williams Apologizes for Transphobic Panel Discussion

The popular daytime talk show host led an ill-informed panel discussion about transgender athlete Chloie Jonsson, and now she's apologized.

BY Parker Marie Molloy

March 17 2014 2:45 PM ET

Chloie Jonsson and Wendy Williams

Media personality and talk show host Wendy Williams took on a panel discussion about transgender CrossFit athlete Chloie Jonsson on The Wendy Williams Show Friday, becoming the latest in a long line of media personalities asserting themselves as experts on the biology of trans people's bodies.

Williams was joined by Judge Lynn Toler of Divorce Court, Joe Pardavila of The Todd Show, and Jenni Pulos of Flipping Out.

Jonsson's name has been in the headlines recently, as she is currently suing the fitness giant after being told she wasn't eligible to compete in the women's division of the annual CrossFit Games because she was assigned male at birth. 

The segment opened with an ill-advised joke about Chloie Jonsson's last name being "Jonsson," and it stumbled from there on out.

"Think about it," Pardavila said during the segment. "You look inside — she's got all guy muscles, and the juices! You know, I'm not a doctor or anything, but inside her, that's all there."

Toler said that while she didn't believe it was fair for the 5-foot, 4-inch Jonsson to compete against other women, the fact that Jonsson is legally recognized as female by the state of California means the judge saw no legal basis to deny Jonsson entry into CrossFit's women's division. Williams responded by suggesting that maybe the law needed to change to keep trans athletes from competing with their cisgender (nontrans) counterparts. 

Williams went on to repeatedly misgender Chaz Bono, referring to him as "she" and "her."

"This is an unfair advantage," Williams added. "You can take away female or male parts or whatever — it's like Chaz Bono! You know, Chaz is a man now, but I bet she still fights like a girl like the rest of us, and she's not as strong as a man who was born a man."

Unfortunately, neither the statements made by 5-foot, 11-inch Williams, nor those by "pop culture expert" Pardavila are backed up by science.

Eric Vilain, director of the Center for Gender-based Biology, and chief of medical genetics in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of California Los Angeles, debunks the idea that transgender women who have been on hormone replacement therapy for a significant amount of time retain some sort of advantage over their cisgender counterparts:

"Research suggests that androgen deprivation and cross-sex hormone treatment in male-to-female transsexuals reduces muscle mass; accordingly, one year of hormone therapy is an appropriate transitional time before a male-to-female student athlete competes on a women's team."

After becoming the subject of some backlash after The Huffington Post's James Nichols reported on the problematic segment, The Wendy Williams Show pulled the video from its website, and Williams has tweeted an apology.

Pardavila issued a series of apologies, replying to a number of his critics on Twitter, promising to improve.

For her part, Toler hasn't walked back her implication that transgender women have athletic advantages over cisgender women, tweeting, "Didn't mean moral, meant physical fairness that the other panelists were talking about." Later, she tweeted "The difference between what I said and what you heard is so vast you can't see one when you are standing at the other."

GLAAD has launched a page asking CrossFit to reconsider its current stance on transgender athletes, citing the Trans*Athlete website and linking to a MoveOn.org petition.

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