Dave Chappelle declined to have his former high school to name its theater after him due to student backlash over transphobic remarks he has made over the past several months. During a dedication speech at the Duke Ellington School for the Arts in Northwest Washington, D.C., the comedian told the audience that he didn’t want his name to distract students from their art.
The announcement came as a surprise to the crowd assembled Monday night for the ceremony. Chappelle said that he’d made the decision on Friday. The comedian will instead donate $100,000 to the theater, which will be called the Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression.
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A defensive Chappelle said criticism from students “sincerely hurt me,” and claimed that those who objected to the dedication, “said everything about gender… they didn’t say anything about art,” according to USA Today.
Chappelle drew widespread criticism last fall for transphobic and anti-LGBTQ remarks made in what he’s said will be the final of several high-profile Netflix comedy specials. In The Closer, Chapelle announces that he considers himself a transgender exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) and launched into a derogatory diatribe about transgender women’s genitals.
“No matter what they say about The Closer, it is still [one of the] most watched specials on Netflix,” he told the crowd on Monday. “The more you say I can’t say something, the more urgent it is for me to say it. It has nothing to do with what you are saying I can’t say. It has everything to do with my freedom of artistic expression.”
The school postponed the dedication last fall in the wake of the controversy. At a speaking engagement at the school last November, Chappelle was met with intense criticism from students calling him “childish” and a “bigot.”
“With all due respect, I don’t believe you could make one of the decisions I have to make on a given day,” the comedian replied. “I’m better than every instrumentalist, artist, no matter what art you do in this school, right now, I’m better than all of you.”
“It was a huge power imbalance of this grown man and his camera crew — and these 14- to 18 year-olds without their phones, just high school kids,” one student told Politico at the time.
Duke Ellington Principal Sandi Logan held weekly meetings with students to discuss Chappelle’s comments after the dedication announcement.
“Moving forward with the event … without first addressing questions and concerns from members of the Ellington Community would be a missed opportunity for a teachable moment,” the school wrote in a statement.