Andrew Sullivan on the Netflix walkout and the anti-gay movement

October 25, 2021 • 9:30 am

Update: Over at his website (this portions can be read for free), Matt Taibbi goes hard after the MSM’s distorted reading of both Chapelle’s bit and its own faulty reporting. Read Taibbi’s “Cancel culture takes a big ‘L‘”.


After Netflix broadcast Dave Chappelle’s latest comedy show, “The Closer,” he was accused not just of transphobia, but homophobia, and by gay-plus organizations like GLAAD (see here and here, for instance). Netflix employees walked out in a protest, and had a scuffle with Chapelle fans who also showed up. Here’s an example of the rancor (this video is hard to find; I think the Netflix protestors are embarrassed, as they shoul be):

Here’s Andrew Sullivan’s take on the incident from his latest column on Substack (I believe a read is free, but do subscribe):

It was, as it turned out, a bit of a non-event. The walkout by transgender Netflix employees and their supporters to demand that the company take down and apologize for the latest Chappelle special attracted “dozens,” despite media hype.

But the scenes were nonetheless revealing. A self-promoting jokester showed up with a placard with the words “We Like Jokes” and “We Like Dave” to represent an opposing view. He was swiftly accosted by a man who ripped the poster apart, leaving the dude with just a stick, prompting the assailant to shout “He’s got a weapon!” Pushed back by other protestors, he was then confronted by a woman right in front of him — shaking a tambourine — and yelling repeatedly into his face: “Repent, motherfucker! Repent! Repent!”

This is the state of what’s left of the gay rights movement in America. Judgmental, absolutist, intolerant, and hysterical, it looks to shut down speech it dislikes, drive its foes out of the public square, compile enemies’ lists of dangerous writers, artists, and politicians, and cancel and protest anything that does not comport with every tiny aspect of their increasingly deranged ideology.

Now gay activists don’t behave like this, at least now; it’s largely the trans activists who do, and Sullivan compares them to the opponents of gay rights in the past:

Anti-gay forces, hegemonic for centuries, were just like these trans activists. They were just as intent on suppressing and stigmatizing magazines, shows, and movies they believed were harmful. They too targeted individual artists and writers for personal destruction. They too believed that movies and comedy needed to be reined in order to prevent social harm. They protested in front of movie theaters. They tried to get shows canceled. And if you’d marched in any gay demo or Pride in the 1990s, you’d always be prepared to confront a grimacing Christianist yelling “Repent! Repent!” in your face.

In fact, it’s hard not to see the trans far left as a farcical replay of the Religious Right of the past. They are the Dana Carvey church ladies of our time, except instead of saying “Could it be Satan?!” when confronting some cultural or moral transgression, they turn to the camera, clutch their pearls, and say “Could it be whiteness?!”

This was never, ever the spirit of the gay rights movement in the past. In fact, it was America’s guarantee of free expression and free association that made the gay rights movement possible. It was the First Amendment, and the spirit of the First Amendment, that was easily the most important right for gays for decades. From the fledgling Society for Human Rights, formed in Chicago in 1924, and its pioneering magazine, Friendship and Freedom, to the struggles against censorship in the 1950s, with One Magazine, and erotic Physique pamphlets under siege, it was the First Amendment that, especially under Oliver Wendell Holmes, allowed gay people to find each other, to develop arguments for their own dignity and self-worth, and to sustain free associations when the entire society viewed them as perverts and undesirables and child molesters.

What Sullivan says about the First Amendment and gay rights is, so far as I know, true. Thus the irony in that those backing trans rights often call for suppression of speech. A notable and especially ironic twist is that the ACLU itself, formerly a hard-nosed defender of the First Amendment, has as its chief attorney for trans right an explicit censor:

Seriously, I don’t know anybody who has “transphobia” in the sense that they want to suppress or deny the rights of transgender people. But within the issue there is room for debate about how cis-trans relations should work—cases involving prison enrollment, sports participation, and so on. But even to broach these topics is taboo, as J. K. Rowling and others have found who have questioned the exact equation of transwomen with natal (biological) women. The instant you mention such issues, you’re branded a transphobe and the mob descends. It’s easier to hurl epithets than cobble together a coherent defense.

I don’t remember such rancor with the gay rights movement, but of course that was a long time ago. There were of course dire things gay-rights advocates did, like “outing” closeted people, but it seems to me the movement advanced largely by reasoned argument—things like Andrew Sullivan’s cogent arguments for gay marriage. (Read, for example, his 1989 New Republic article, “Here comes the groom.”

At any rate, behavior like that depicted above, or the constant demonizing of people who are really in favor of trans rights as “transphobes” because they’re not 100% with the party line, will not only not help their cause, but plays right into the hands of Republicans eager to elect Trump in 2024. Sullivan goes on about the various ways that gay writers, poets, and playwrights used the First Amendment, but you can read that for yourself. He ends this way, chastising “the capture of the gay movement” by authoritarians who avoid reasoned argument. I’ve bolded one sentence because it’s so characteristic of this kind of authoritarianism:

The capture of the gay rights movement by humor-free, fragile products of the social justice industrial complex is not just terrible PR for all of us. It’s awful politics. They are not even trying to persuade, debate, or make reasoned arguments — as we did relentlessly in the marriage movement. They do not engage and invite critics, as we did. They try to destroy them. Instead of arguments, they tweet out slogans in all caps — TRANS WOMEN ARE WOMEN — as if they’re citing a Biblical text. And the act of persuasion, the key to any liberal democracy, is, for them, an unjust imposition of “emotional labor.” So much easier to coerce.

It also pains me to see the gay rights movement deploy what is in effect mob bullying as a tactic. That’s what these Twitter campaigns are all about. The way these fanatics have tried to turn one of the most successful and imaginative writers of our time, J.K. Rowling, into a hate object has been achieved by the foulest of language, elevated by the megaphone of social media. Yes: the very people most subject to bullying in childhood are now acting like bullies as adults. In the words of the great gay poet, W.H. Auden:

I and the public know

What all schoolchildren learn.

Those to whom evil is done

Do evil in return.

This is the temptation. We have to resist it. It is a betrayal of so many through history. And it could provoke a backlash that is as damaging as it is deserved.

Now of course not all trans advocates behave this way. But I’ve seen very few telling their compatriots that they’re going too far. Who in the movement has criticized the ACLU’s Chase Strangio for explicitly calling for censorship?

27 thoughts on “Andrew Sullivan on the Netflix walkout and the anti-gay movement

  1. Here is another video of a separate incident.

    The Tweeter (Vito Gesualdi) says: “Joe Cristalli, the same Netflix writer who ripped up my sign and accused me of wielding a weapon, later attempted to destroy ANOTHER comedian’s sign. This altercation ended with the comedian being thrown into a concrete planter and suffering a serious blow to the head.”

      1. There is no comedy in the Woke world.

        I paraphrase Valentine Smith in Stranger in a Strange Land: These jokes, they all involve a badness for someone.

        Since in the Woke World, there is a “right to never be offended”, no jokes may be spoken.

  2. The trans movement is hard to get a handle on, and it does seem religious in the sense that it wants people to accept their world view and their exclusive view of what’s right and wrong. Gays and lesbians used to say, “We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!” That was not, all things considered, a big ask, even though it took a while. But when a trans activist says that it is transphobic for a gay man to say he’s not attracted to trans men who have vaginas, well, that is asking for a lot more than toleration. That is an assertion that only the trans have the correct view on gender and sexuality, and it is exclusionary of other views. Frankly, in the world of 2SLGBTQQI+ (Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex), I am not sure that LGB really have anything in common with the rest.

    1. Indeed. For the reasons set out in your final sentence, in the UK a new organisation, LGB Alliance, was recently set up and granted charitable status by the Charity Commission. The immediate response of the trans activists was to brand LGB Alliance transphobic and to appeal against the Commission’s decision.

  3. The extremists in Gay Rights etc. were always there, and have long been part of campus communities, but it’s the media and corporate America that now kowtow to the extremists as if the are standard bearers of their movement. They have been granted “legitimacy.” This all took off after George Floyd , and to borrow a phrase, “Fear is the accuser.”

  4. “This is the state of what’s left of the gay rights movement in America. Judgmental, absolutist, intolerant, and hysterical, it looks to shut down speech it dislikes, drive its foes out of the public square”. What Sullivan writes is true in the UK, too, and recently led former Conservative MP Matthew Parris to criticise Stonewall, a gay rights charity he co-founded in 1989, for getting “tangled up in the trans issue” and being “cornered into an extreme stance”.

  5. I remember a lot of extremist shrieking during the Gay Rights days of the 1980s, too, and it wasn’t all coming from the Christian Right. In fact, a lot of the folks picketing Netflix look and sound exactly like the the shriekers back then. The proportion with penises, too, looks like back then. Even the costumes are similar. Narcissism may not repeat itself. But it rhymes.
    Homosexuality is a thing, so the ask was smaller to have it embraced in a free society. Not so sure about trans. But you won’t win me over by shouting No Debate written in ALL CAPS. And this is in Canada where those conversations about prisons, violence shelters, and sports teams are already silenced by Human Rights Legislation that was never debated in the public sphere.
    But do love your children unconditionally no matter what.

  6. This is a sad development of a small, aggressive vocal minority that grabs enormous press from a small subset of individuals who have real discomfit with their assigned gender roles. This is to be expected in any large population that some children, at a very early age, don’t fit neatly into their birth gender label.. So what! In Ireland there was a remarkable documentary of how one family and their community dealt with their decision to raise their young daughter as a boy in full consultation with doctors, priests and family. It covered several years of the child’s life, especially in school, and it was truly beautiful how accepting the school and community was for this normal boy’s development.

  7. … it was the First Amendment that, especially under Oliver Wendell Holmes, allowed gay people to find each other, to develop arguments for their own dignity and self-worth, and to sustain free associations …

    I think Sullivan should have that as “the First Amendment … under Louis Brandeis.” It was Holmes who came around to the views of Brandeis, the great civil libertarian, regarding free speech, particularly in his ringing dissent in Abrams v. United States (1919), after he had taken a much more cramped view of the Free Speech clause during the preceding term in Schenck v. United States.

    It was Brandeis’s own dissent in a free-speech case, Pierce v. United States (1920), during the height of the First Red Scare, that eventually became the law of the land in 1969 in Brandenburg v. Ohio.

  8. Anyone who is protesting the Chapelle special as “anti-gay” or (especially) “anti-trans” did not watch the entire special & did not watch it very carefully, and I suspect that many of them did not watch it at all, except filtered through the fun-house-mirrored-lenses of their malignant narcissism.

  9. I’m a gay man who came of age in the late 80s. There were extremists in the gay rights movement, especially during the AIDS crisis (there was a tension within the gay community about groups like Queer Nation and ACT/UP). These groups weren’t being adopted by universities, governments and corporations the way trans groups are now. Is it any coincidence that this happened when ‘trans’ was widened from transsexuals to include cross-dressing heterosexual men?

    1. I came of age a little earlier but remember the same thing. I recall that universities or academics were not involved in these things at all because academics still had to be careful about being outed as gay. It was definitely a grassroots movement and we could simply afford to laugh at extremists and ideologues.

      However I do recall “trans” as referring to the same kinds of people that it refers to today. I had a few trans friends in the late 70s and early 80s. Indeed we had many of the same controversies we have today, for example a lot of lesbians objected to trans women calling themselves lesbians.

      1. I have known ‘trans’ people for many years but the ones I knew in the 80s and 90s were primarily homosexual males and females who physically transitioned. I never met any heterosexual women who identified as gay men, and heterosexual men who identified as lesbians were rather marginal. In the early 2000s the ‘queer’ organisation at my workplace started to be dominated by straight men who liked to dress as women. A few years ago some lesbian friends told me that there was an increasing number of trans women pressuring them to have sex. The non-binary thing is even more recent – I never heard the term until about 10 years ago.

        1. It is funny how experiences differ. I never heard of the concept of homosexual males or lesbians “transitioning”, that seems illogical and quite counter to mainstream gay culture. I only recall a homosexual man as being a homosexual man and a lesbian being a lesbian.

          I was in a band for a while with a trans woman who had a girlfriend. I recall a trans woman comedian being hissed by the lesbians in the audience of a big Gay Pride event when she referred to her “yellow overalls”.

          1. I meant that all the trans women I knew were born male, attracted to other males, and got hormones and surgery to become women. All the trans men I knew were born female, attracted to other females (and usually on the ‘butch’ side) and got hormones and surgery to become men.

  10. Their actions make no sense, if you start from the assumption that these actions are meant to improve the lives of the populations represented, or even of society as a whole.
    To me, all of it makes more sense if such movements have been taken over by agitators, primarily because the group members are perceived as relatively easy to manipulate.
    So, they don’t need to care about trans folks, or minorities, or the environment, or whatever.

    Of course, I have no evidence whatever that this is the case, for the trans movement, or BLM, or even the 3% folks.
    But it would not be unprecedented, either.

    1. Some evidence for Max:

      1) If you engage with climate activists long enough, it is surprisingly easy to get them to admit (or brag) that “force is not off the table” or that “disrupting national sovereignty by putting real teeth” into international gab-fests is their agenda. The trick to this is framing the problem not as one of getting people to accept “the 97% consensus” but instead as a collective-action problem. Within democracies, voters will not support policies that make themselves worse off. Authoritarian countries still have dissent—it’s just uglier. Internationally, all countries will operate domestically on the assumption that all other countries will cheat anyway. (The quotes come from on-line comments gleaned during a dark rainy day yesterday.). They get this. So when push comes to shove, they will bring out their truncheons to install themselves as commissars.

      2) The goals espoused in “Decolonization is not a metaphor” (Tuck and Yang, 2012) could only be achieved by violence, given that the 95% of people in Canada who claim no indigenous ancestry whatever, and the 99.1% of Americans, would have to acquiesce to being involuntarily de-settled and disenfranchised or even pushed into the sea if that’s what the new oligarchy decided to do.
      (The 95% figure for Canada is an under-estimate as the census encourages people to self-identify as indigenous and the number doing so has been rising faster than the natural rate of increase. The proportion who are “legal status Indians” under Canada’s Indian Act and who live on geographically defined reserves, the folks who might be manipulated into rising, is much smaller, perhaps 2-3%. I belabour this just to show how much violence it would take to “de-colonize” even Canada, much more for the U.S.)

      (I’m indebted to Paul Viminitz for insight into collective-action problems.)

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