The only way to convince Charlamagne tha God to stop allowing transphobia on his show is to threaten his job security, as far as black transgender female activists I spoke with are concerned. And, while, no, Charlamagne didn’t talk about killing trans women, Ashlee Marie Preston said Charlamagne was the ringleader of Lil Duval’s transphobic rhetoric on The Breakfast Club Friday morning.
She said there was no reason to ask the comedian about Donald Trump’s ban on transgender troops serving in the military, which led to his using a transphobic slur that starts with a “t.” In addition, Lil Duval isn’t particularly known for his insights on military policy. Breakfast Club co-host DJ Envy further exacerbated the drama by asking how Lil Duval would respond if a woman revealed that she was transgender after four months of dating. His reply that she would end up dead was one Charlamagne and crew surely expected.
“They brought that up knowing he would have a reaction,” said Preston, who staged an action against Charlamagne at Politicon in Pasadena, Calif., Sunday. “They know we’re in the age of pro-trans identity, of doing better and being decent people. So they still wanted to get that buzz when they were the ones making those statements directly. But they wanted to use Lil Duval as the voice for what they really wanted to say.”
The Breakfast Club co-hosts defended themselves Monday morning, with Charlamagne defiantly saying, “I’m not apologizing for the words of Lil Duval.”
Preston said that’s a cop-out. The co-hosts knew that asking the comedian about trans issues would evoke a controversial statement, making them equally accountable, she said. Preston, who is the first transgender editor in chief of the intersectional feminist magazine Wear Your Voice, is joining other trans activists in trying to force The Breakfast Club to confront what they say is its casual acceptance of transphobic behavior. Elle Hearns, founder and executive director of the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, started a petition to boycott The Breakfast Club. Raquel Willis started #TransFolksAreNotJokes on Saturday.
In interviews with The Root, transgender activists said they are organizing efforts to force iHeartRadio, the company that owns The Breakfast Club, to apologize. The petition organized by Hearns goes further, demanding that Charlamagne apologize for allowing a transphobic conversation to take place and that iHeartRadio cancel the show.
“I don’t think that any person who is born with any kind of consciousness could ever take joy in watching people be hurt,” Hearns said. “He has a long history of anti-black rhetoric with black women. To watch black trans women be disrespected is to also watch black women be disrespected. And we’ve seen that behavior from him many times before, which is why he, in particular, has become a target because of his unwillingness to acknowledge that he is wrong.”
What neither Charlamagne nor his co-hosts seem to understand is that the very passive tone of their conversation with Lil Duval creates a culture where violence against trans women is accepted, the activists told me. So far, Human Rights Watch reports that 22 trans women have been killed in the United States so far in 2017, with most of them being trans women of color.
When I asked if the activists would be willing to speak with Charlamagne, some of them kept that door open, citing one exception: not on his show. Giving The Breakfast Club ratings isn’t something they’re interested in. Besides, they say they are not very optimistic that talking to him will do that much good. Days before Lil Duval’s transphobic appearance, Janet Mock spoke with the co-hosts about being transgender. A few days later, Charlamagne used her as a sexual prop for Lil Duval’s sick humor by raising her name in his discussion with Duval.
In Allure, Mock spoke out against the show’s treatment of her.
“He was completely dismissive of that experience and allowed her to be a punch line and material for a comedian,” Willis said. “I don’t want to put myself in that situation. If it was outside of the show, if it was a panel or a discussion between us two, I would go to an event like that and be a part of that.”
The Lil Duval episode is about trans black women, but there is a larger, overarching issue concerning what they feel is Charlamagne’s anti-black woman rhetoric, L’lerrét Ailith, communications director for Black Youth Project 100, told me. Charlamagne likes to project an image of wokeness, she said, given his support of the Black Lives Matter movement and his political engagement in the 2016 election, though he seems to fail when it comes to gender.
“It’s hard for me to continue to cape for Charlamagne and say he just needs to be educated,” Ailith said. “Janet Mock was just on his show. As she wrote in her article, she doesn’t do Trans 101, but she did it for them. She went step by step, educating them on the basics of what it means to be a trans person very eloquently, and Charlamagne still refuses to take that lesson and incorporate it into his politics. I don’t think he is really willing to relinquish himself the bigotry he internalized.”
In December, he sparked controversy when he tweeted that more black women need to build platforms like Tomi Lahren, the young white woman who used her time at TheBlaze to direct racist diatribes at black people for mass white supremacist consumption. He didn’t help quell reactions from black women by having her on his show, either. Media executive Jamilah Lemieux and social-justice activist Amber Phillips appeared on his show in an attempt to explain why giving Lahren a platform was ill-advised.
But, like clockwork, it appears to have done little good. Charlamagne continues to propagate anti-trans behavior, which is why the activists aren’t backing down from their demands that his show be held accountable. Twitter users are continuing to upload videos of support to #TransFolksAreNotJokes. The #BreakfastClubBoycott petition is gaining stream, and Preston is planning further actions against The Breakfast Club this week.
Trying to reason with Charlamagne’s indignation is pointless, she said.
“There need to be consequences.” Preston said. “If we just tell people ‘You should be a better person and you should feel different,’ what is that? We’re still going to lose our lives. They are still going to say problematic things and reinforcing ideologies that put us in danger. What we’re learning is that some of the strongest forms of activism is when you hit a muthafucka in their pockets. Period. Point blank.”