Op-ed: B. Scott and BET's Transgender Problem

By Rizi Timane

Originally published on Advocate.com August 15 2013 8:00 AM ET

Transgender people have so few role models in the media. So when BET hired transgender and gay TV, radio, and Web personality B. Scott (who uses male pronouns) as its red carpet correspondent for the network’s own BET Awards, it was a revelation. Here was an individual who had made a name for himself without regard to his gender expression. His LoveBScott.com, an entertainment blog focusing on celebrity news, fashion, and music, launched in 2007 and has won the Best Video Blog award from the Black Weblog Awards twice. In 2008 YouTube selected B. to become one of the company’s partners, and in 2009 he launched an online talk and variety show called The B. Scott Show where he has interviewed the likes of Mariah Carey, Ne-Yo, Chaka Khan, and Ashanti. He has been a featured panelist at LGBT conferences and hosted events at the Hollywood Black Film Festival and Yale University’s gay pride celebration.

In short, B. Scott is no joke. He is a media icon who has built his image and his career from the ground up, and he is an inspiration to transgender people of all backgrounds and LGBT people as a whole. He has shown us that hope for our future and simple acceptance from the public are possible.

And then BET stepped in and crushed those dreams. After reportedly approving B. Scott’s on-air wardrobe for the pre-show — black heels, a pair of loose black pants, a sleeveless top, and a flowing dark blue tunic — the BET honchos decided it was inappropriate. By the time this decision came down, B. had already appeared on live TV in this outfit and, I might add, looked damn good: The clothes were classy and stylish, perfectly fitting for an individual whose job it was to analyze and discuss the fashion of the evening.

The appropriateness of the clothes, however, was not the problem for BET. It was that they were women’s clothes. Despite the fact that B. Scott dresses as a woman, appears as a woman, and for all intents and purposes is a gender-nonconforming person publicly and on a daily basis, those in charge of the network found his garb offensive somehow. To them, B. was a man in women’s dress, and that just could not fly. After B. was allowed on air in the outfit for one segment, he was pulled aside and told that if he wanted to continue, he would have to put on something — well, more manly. Not wanting to lose this job that would obviously be important to his career, he complied and appeared for the rest of the show in black trousers and a shiny blue suit coat. His long, straight hair was pulled back in a modest ponytail, and the sparkling smile that was a permanent fixture on his face prior to this fiasco was wiped away for good.

B. Scott was not happy. He was embarrassed, angry, and uncomfortable. Anyone with eyes could have seen that. Yet the BET executives did not care. B. looked how they wanted him to look now — in other words, like a man — and that was all that mattered.

Eventually, BET pulled B. off the air altogether, replacing him with a female host, who, because she was “born that way,” was fine in her dress and high heels. Women’s clothing was all right for a cis woman but not for a transgender, gay individual? BET had made its rules clear, though unfortunately a little too late. B. Scott had already been singled out and humiliated.

To bring this egregious misconduct to light, B. Scott has now filed a lawsuit against BET claiming the network is guilty of discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Though B. is seeking $2.5 million in damages, I’m not sure any monetary amount could make up for what has been done. This is not just a matter of clothing choices and what an employer can or cannot ultimately make an employee do to retain their job, although those are certainly high among the practical concerns of any transgender individual. No, this is a question of deep-seated, insidious, and ingrained prejudices that unfortunately still rear their ugly heads — an underlying misunderstanding and even hatred that is always present even when it is not spoken.

I cannot say I know the true motives of the BET representatives who told B. Scott to change his clothes, but I can guess the implied message of their actions: “You’re too weird. You need to conform no matter how uncomfortable it makes you.” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that, either outright or implicitly, I would be as rich as some of the celebrities B. interviewed on BET’s red carpet.

So what does this all mean for transgender individuals? Whether we are public figures or not, what happened to B. Scott at the BET Awards is clearly another step back when we thought we were making some progress for once. I and many other transgender people were surprised but so happy that BET had made such a bold move when it brought B. Scott on board. This was widespread international exposure for our cause and, more importantly, a chance to show the world that a transgender individual is just as capable and talented as anyone of any other gender expression. And then it ended in disaster. To say I am disappointed is an understatement; devastated is more like it, and all I can do is hope and pray that B. Scott’s courage will bring everyone more clarity in the future.
 

RIZI TIMANE is a transgender minister and spiritual counselor as well as an LGBT-affirming gospel singer. He also earned a Ph.D. in Christian counseling from Newburgh Seminary and will graduate from University of Southern California School of Social Work this August with his master's in social qork.