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Doubt's Cancellation Is a Cruel and Ill-Timed Blow to Trans Visibility

Doubt made history as the first network television show to cast a transgender actress as a trans series regular. And now, it's set records for the fastest show to be yanked off the air this season.

Citing poor ratings, CBS pulled the legal drama, which starred Katherine Heigl, Laverne Cox, and others as a diverse team of defense lawyers. Its premiere garnered 5.29 million viewers with a rating of 0.8 in the key 18-49 demographic. Its second episode fell to 4 million viewers with a 0.4 rating.

The show slot — 10 p.m. on Wednesday — will be filled by Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, a procedural about crimes tied to travel and immigration.

Deadline reports the network is not calling the move a cancellation. Doubt may reappear in the summer when viewership dips.

The loss of trans visibility is ill-timed for the LGBT community, to say the least. The question of whether federal law against sex discrimination covers gender identity discrimination will be debated next month in a Supreme Court case, in which trans high school student Gavin Grimm will be fighting for his rights. The "bathroom battle" sparked new protests this week, when the Trump administration rescinded education guidelines protecting trans students.

At the Grammy Awards, which aired on CBS, Cox used her platform to urge audience members to "Google Gavin Grimm" and stand with his fight. She appeared on MSNBC’s Hardball this week to debunk the harmful myths of the transgender "bathroom predator."

Visibility is key to fighting these harmful myths. In an interview with The Advocate earlier this month, the creators of Doubt — married couple Tony Phelan and Joan Rater — discussed why they created show: to make the world a better and safer place for transgender kids, including their own, Tom.

"The fact that those kids can watch a show on CBS and see somebody who they haven’t seen before — I think that’s huge. I don’t discount that at all," Phelan in the interview, which preceded news of the cancellation.

"Right after the election, I got real scared in terms of Tommy about trans rights and things like that. I’m less scared now, but it’s still there," said Rater, adding, "I guess my answer is, I think our show is more important now than ever."

"People adopt these characters as their family," Phelan added. "You spend time with them every week. You see them go through their trials and tribulations. So I think that any kind of diversity, but especially diversity about gender identity and sexual orientation, on television, especially network television, is incredibly important."

Next week, however, transgender kids will not be seeing Cox in her role. Neither will those who may benefit from seeing a smart, successful trans woman on television. As celebrities, public figures, and businesses proclaimed "protect trans kids" this week, a tone-deaf CBS pulled a show that might help protect them. Ratings aside, there is no doubt the move is a missed opportunity to be on the right side of history.

DANIEL REYNOLDS is an editor at The Advocate. Follow him on Twitter @dnlreynolds.

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