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Sarah Silverman's Equal Pay Video Faces Backlash

Sarah Silverman’s viral video promoting a new campaign to close the wage gap is facing backlash over a premise some claim makes light of gender confirmation surgery and the plight of transgender people — in a country where they can still be fired in 32 states simply for being trans.

In her video for the The National Women’s Law Center’s “Equal Payback Project,” the comedian aimed to highlight the gender-based wage disparity by proposing a facetious way to close the gap for herself: having surgery to add a penis to her body. “I’m becoming a dude,” Silverman says.

Among those to speak out against the video are LGBT organizations including The Jim Collins Foundation, a non-profit that funds gender-confirming surgeries for transgender people. The Foundation released a statement calling for the removal of the video:

We call upon NWLC to take down the video immediately. It was created at the expense of the transgender community, an already vulnerable, often misunderstood, and targeted population. And it does more than leave transgender women and men out from an important conversation on employment discrimination — it is dehumanizing and puts a stamp of approval on jokes about transgender people’s lives.

Sarah Kate Ellis, the President and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, also released a statement Thursday saying the video “missed the mark.”

“I certainly get the video’s humor,” Ellis wrote, “and I think we can all agree it’s well intended. But for transgender people and allies like me, it’s difficult to watch without thinking about the dire employment situation trans people face in the workplace.”

The video also prompted criticism on Twitter:

.@nwlc @SarahKSilverman Sex reassignment doesn’t help one advance in workplace. Ask one of the most underemployed populations: trans people.

— Janet Mock (@janetmock) October 8, 2014

Thx @SarahKSilverman for addressing wage gap but “sex change” won’t do it. You can be fired in 32 states just for being trans* #equalpayback

— Out & Equal (@OutandEqual) October 9, 2014

In response to the controversy, the National Women’s Law Center released a statement last Thursday from Co-President Marcia D. Greenberger, who said it wasn’t the organization’s intent to gloss over trans discrimination:

The Equal Payback Project uses Silverman’s brand of absurd humor to draw attention to this ludicrous situation. It was not our intent to make light of the serious issues transgender people face. We will share statistics about job discrimination faced by transgender people as part of the Equal Payback Project. And we commit to using some of the resources raised by this project to bring awareness to the discrimination faced by transgender women and men.

Silverman also addressed the video last week, claiming the video was “transignorant” rather than transphobic.

If I literally got a sex change I would indeed find the work force far less friendly. The video wasn’t transphobic it was transignorant – never crossed my mind. But to my *unintentional* credit – people are talking about it & so begins awareness. Please don’t punish this cause because of my video. I certainly don’t only fight for causes that concern or benefit me and I expect the same of the vital trans community.

Her statement prompted a fresh barrage of criticism on social media:

“The video wasn’t transphobic, it was transignorant”.

Someone let Silverman know you can perpetuate transphobia through ignorance.

— nothing to ze hir (@awhooker) October 10, 2014

.@SarahKSilverman not only do you define transphobia as a cis person, you mocked trans ppl + then expect us trans ppl to support your cause

— Sophia Banks (@sophiaphotos) October 13, 2014

Reading about this whole @SarahKSilverman debacle. Outraged that a cis person tried to define transphobia – complete with backhanded apology

— zeller ash (@zellerpress) October 13, 2014