On Gabourey Sidibe's String of Transphobic Comments on Arsenio Hall Show

By Parker Marie Molloy

Originally published on Advocate.com February 03 2014 2:02 PM ET

When Gabourey Sidibe appeared on The Arsenio Hall Show January 23, the American Horror Story: Coven star rattled off a string of transphobic slurs, seemingly joking about treatment she observed trans people receiving from New Orleans-area police.

Gabourey Sidibe: There was a bar that we would frequent and every time we'd go, when we were leaving, every single time there was always like a gang of cops arresting trannies.

Audience: [Laughter]

Sidibe: Specifically trannies.

Arsenio Hall: Yeah…

Sidibe: And I don't know what goes on with trannies but that tranny-on-tranny crime needs to stop!

Arsenio Hall and audience: [Laughter]

Sidibe [chuckling]: It is tearing our nation apart!

While Sidibe might have found the image of trans women being arrested en masse by the New Orleans Police Department hilarious, the United States Department of Justice seems to think otherwise. "Far too often, officers show a lack of respect for the civil rights and dignity of the people of New Orleans," reads a 2011 Justice Department investigation into complaints against NOPD. "Transgender women complained that NOPD officers improperly target and arrest them for prostitution, sometimes fabricating evidence of solicitation for compensation. Moreover, transgender residents reported that officers are likelier, because of their gender identity, to charge them under the state's 'crimes against nature' statute." The report continues, "Community members told us they believe some officers equate being African American and transgender with being a prostitute."

Sidibe, who played the titular role in Precious, a 2009 film and GLAAD Media Award nominee for outstanding film, has since offered a brief apology through her Twitter account:

I've apologized several times for using the word "Tranny". I don't realize that it was a slur. I'm very sorry for my poor choice of words.

— Gabourey Sidibe (@GabbySidibe) February 1, 2014

I'm also sorry for having made light of a bad situation. It was not my intention.

— Gabourey Sidibe (@GabbySidibe) February 1, 2014

A number of prominent transgender advocates released statements condemning Sidibe's actions. In a statement to The Huffington Post, Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said, "Using ['tranny'] to make fun of people is definitely not OK. And using it to make fun of any kind of violence is just plain wrong. I know she meant it in fun, but that's the problem in this case... It's the kind of thing that trans people listen to and say, 'This is someone who is not thinking about our lives. This is someone who is making fun of our problems.' Gabby is someone who has approached lots of different social issues with grace and class, and so this is just such a disappointment."

It's easy to see why Sidibe didn't initially realize "tranny" was a slur. After all, the word is still used with alarming frequency in mainstream and LGBT-centric media. Shows like How I Met Your Mother, Mike and Molly, 30 Rock, Girls, The Office, Community, The Daily Show, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Arrested Development, The Colbert Report, and The Simpsons have all used "tranny" as the punchline to jokes over the course of their time on air. Adding to that, even people who find themselves widely respected among many LGBT individuals, such as RuPaul and Dan Savage, have outright defended the use of the word.

The fact remains, the word is viewed by many trans individuals as a hateful slur, and is listed as a defamatory term on GLAAD's Transgender Media Reference Guide.

Contributor: 
Parker Marie Molloy