On Thursday, hundreds of trans and nonbinary TV and film writers and their allies staged a “Trans Takeover” outside Netflix’s Los Angeles headquarters as part of the ongoing Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike.
Earlier this month, members of the union, which represents TV and film writers, went on strike after negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents studios and production companies, ended without an agreement. The WGA is demanding better pay for writers, who have seen their livelihoods decimated in the streaming era.
Protesters picketing Netflix on Thursday aimed to draw attention to concerns about employment opportunities for trans writers and how trans people are portrayed on TV, according to Variety. The streamer has faced criticism for canceling numerous LGBTQ+ inclusive shows in recent months and for transphobic comedy specials from Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais.
“Trans people are workers too. We’re in solidarity with the labor movement around the world and we are showing up in ways that we are often not depicted,” said Jacob Tobia, author of the memoir Sissy and a voice actor on Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. “Strikes are moments where you redefine who is at the table, and we want to be sure that we’re sending a really strong message to the world that we’re at the table now and we want to stay at the table.”
Tobia said that the trans and nonbinary community has been “abandoned” by Hollywood as a wave of anti-trans legislation has swept the U.S.
“If you want to stand with us, you need to stand with us. You can’t just put us in a few TV shows and then, when things get hard and when people are paying attention, stop greenlighting our projects,” they said. “You have to commit to us as a community and show that you really care about our dignity, our lives and our economic vitality.”
In recent weeks, WGA protests have been lively affairs, characterized by witty picket signs, appearances by celebrity allies, and even karaoke. The Trans Takeover on Sunset Blvd. was no different, featuring a mini “Picket Ball” emceed by producer and screenwriter Sydney Baloue, with categories like “Best Sign,” “Best Dressed,” and “Best Pet” judged by Transparent creator Joey Soloway, WGA president Meredith Stiehm, actor/writer/producer Alexandra Grey, and actor Brian Michael Smith.
Baloue criticized cisgender showrunners for hiring “token” trans and nonbinary writers to work on series. “We have the right to tell our own stories,” he told Variety.
Mayfair Witches star Jen Richards echoed that criticism. “It sometimes feels like they give us just enough work so that they can pat themselves on the back and feel good about having diversity but never actually let our shows get to air,” she said, adding that trans writers shouldn’t be limited to only working on trans-centric stories.
“We all came into this industry because we’re storytellers and we have a breadth of human experience,” Richards said. “And we’re often just reduced to that one aspect of our identity, when there’s so much more that we can do.”
“We were out there marching for trans stories by trans writers and our right to better wages and dignity,” Baloue wrote in an Instagram post. “Ultimately, in today’s anti-trans climate where 543 anti-trans bills have been passed in 49 states, and trans homicides and suicides are up, esp. suicide attempts in trans youth, now is an important time for our industry to celebrate our voices to help change the culture in this country and in the world.”
“We don’t have a trans or non-binary Will and Grace,” Baloue said on Thursday, referencing the NBC series that President Joe Biden once credited with educating Americans on gay issues.
“We’re not in sitcoms. We have yet to even have truly a trans movie star,” Baloue continued. “We want to write those roles for those people. This is a civil rights movement of our generation.”
“There’s a lot of trans and nonbinary youth today,” Richards said. “They are future audiences and we want to give those audiences proof that gender can be a realm of expression, of play, of creativity and of joy rather than fear and loathing.”