The nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group released its annual Corporate Equality Index — a tool that scores companies on their policies for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer employees — on Thursday, but one company was no longer included: Netflix.
The Human Rights Campaign suspended the streaming giant’s CEI score this year in connection with the company’s handling of Dave Chappelle’s 2021 special “The Closer.”
Jay Brown, the group’s vice president of programs, training and research, said that Chappelle’s jokes about trans people — and the rest of the LGBQ community — pitted marginalized groups against each other and were harmful to the company’s trans employees.
Since 2017, Netflix has scored a perfect 100 on the index’s four criteria: protections from workplace discrimination for LGBTQ people, inclusive benefits, supporting an inclusive culture inside and outside of the workplace, and responsible citizenship, which includes whether companies have donated to LGBTQ causes, for example.
Companies that receive a 100 score on the index receive a “Best Places to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality” distinction.
For the first time in five years, Netflix won’t receive that distinction and also will not receive a score at all.
In a statement, a Netflix spokesperson said the company respectfully disagrees with the Human Rights Campaign’s decision.
“While we have more work to do, we’ve made real strides on inclusion, including for our LGBTQ+ colleagues,” the spokesperson said in an email. “For example, we offer comprehensive transgender and non-binary-inclusive care in our U.S. health plans as well as adoption, surrogacy and parental leave for same-sex couples. And we’ve also worked hard to increase representation on screen. Netflix is the only major entertainment company to have commissioned and published independent research into diversity in our content so that we can better measure our progress.”
Netflix released “The Closer,” Dave Chappelle’s sixth special on the platform, in October, and controversy quickly followed.
Chappelle — who has a history of making jokes about transgender people — said during the special that the trans community wants him “dead” for his past jokes, which have included referring to a trans woman in a derisive way, and defending “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, who published what some critics described as an anti-trans “manifesto” in 2020.
He also joked about the LGBTQ community, generally, saying that he’s jealous of the progress it has made compared to the Black community.
After criticism from both Netflix employees and some viewers that the jokes were transphobic and would contribute to the high rates of violence the trans community faces, Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos stood by Chappelle in an internal email in which he said, “While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm,” Variety reported.
He later walked those comments back and said he should’ve led with “more humanity,” but he continued to stand by the special.
Chappelle said he would meet with trans employees at Netflix, but only if they watched all of the special.
“The special itself, the reaction, the response from the company was really tough,” Brown of Human Rights Campaign said. “As a trans person, it was hard to watch. It seemed to really sort of ignore the fact that we have intersectional lives in the community and tried to essentially pit two marginalized groups against each other, and I really didn’t appreciate the initial response from Netflix either and saw a lot of positive energy from the workers at Netflix to get their company to do better.”
Netflix employees staged a walkout in support of trans employees and to protest Sarandos’ comments.
Brown said that the group has been engaging with Netflix in the aftermath of the release of the special, but that “when push came to shove,” it “just didn’t feel like they had earned the distinction of Best Places to Work, really given the harm that was experienced by their trans workers as a result of the way they handled ‘The Closer.’”
He said that the Human Rights Campaign initially considered issuing Netflix a 25-point deduction given its history of good policies for LGBTQ employees, but “given where we were in this moment in time, we felt the suspension was more appropriate.”
“This is an interesting situation where the policies themselves are really strong,” he said. “You have trans-inclusive benefits, you have robust nondiscrimination policies. It’s really about how they’re living into their values, and if they can do more.”
He said that group raised the bar higher on many of the criteria for this year’s Corporate Equality Index, including adding additional requirements for trans-inclusive health care.
Ultimately, he hopes that Netflix’s suspension sends a message to companies to listen to their employees.
“My hope is that companies understand that their work is powered by individual workers who have really incredible perspectives on the product, and that involving them early and often and throughout the process is going to do better for your company and for your workers — and trans workers are no different there,” he said. “Trans workers’ voices matter.”