NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” and cast member Michael Che have been accused of transphobia following a controversial joke this past weekend.
During the “Weekend Update” segment, Che addressed President Joe Biden’s recent executive order reversing the Trump administration’s ban on transgender people serving openly in the military.
“It's good news, except Biden is calling the policy, ‘don't ask, don't tuck,’ which is not good news,” Che said.
The remark referred to the now-defunct “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military from 1993 to 2010.
The skit drew swift criticism from transgender advocates and allies, who found it insensitive and offensive.
“This is gross,” Twitter user Robyn Sheopersad wrote. “When can trans people just exist without their genitalia being the topic/joke ugh.”
“SNL” had no immediate comment on Che’s joke. (“Saturday Night Live” appears on NBC, which like NBC News is owned by NBCUniversal.)
Natalie Drew, a former Army infantry sergeant who is transgender, said there is an obligation to speak out against jokes that hurt a marginalized group.
“When you start letting these small things take place without being challenged, it eventually snowballs,” Drew, 41, said. “It’s like ‘locker room talk,’ it’s ‘boys being boys,’ but when that goes unabated, eventually you run into a situation where they keep pushing the envelope.”
Drew, who recently celebrated her one-year anniversary of being out in the workplace, said the “Saturday Night Live” incident is a prime example of why transgender representation is needed in the writers’ room.
“I’m confident if there were any trans person that joke had to run by, they would have been like ‘No, we can’t do that!’” she said.
Flame Monroe, who calls herself a comedian “who happens to be transgender,” had a different take.
“What Michael Che said has no validity because who cares about that? I don’t want comedians to be censored, so I’m not going to bash him about that,” she said of Che. “As a comedian, I want to be able to say what I want to say, especially when it’s part of what is happening right now.”
However, Monroe said she’d like to see the community fight for and focus on the “issues that truly matter.” She cited recent community wins, like Sarah McBride becoming the country’s first transgender state senator in Delaware, and Biden’s nomination of Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine as assistant secretary of health. Levine would be the first openly transgender federal official if confirmed by the U.S. Senate.