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On Wednesday about 200 people gathered at one of Netflix’s offices near downtown Hollywood to support a walkout by employees. Netflix employees were protesting that company’s decision to pay comedian Dave Chapelle for yet another transphobic rant marketed as a comedy special and, among other things, firing a pregnant trans employee who warned Netflix about Chapelle’s inflammatory speech and helped organize the walkout. The rally was interrupted repeatedly by right-wing podcasters, a local antivaxxer and a group of self-described trans-exclusionary radical feminists or “TERFs,” all of whom eventually gave up trying to disrupt or were forced out by militant antifascists.
The rally was organized by Ashlee Marie Preston, a longtime trans activist and journalist in L.A. who previously consulted with Netflix for diversity trainings. Preston claimed during the event that she reached out to Chapelle to have a dialogue about his inflammatory remarks, but the comedian didn’t respond.
“It’s not just about Netflix—it’s about the emergence of a corporate culture that manipulates the algorithmic sciences to distort the way we perceive each other,” Preston said, continuing, “It is the emergence of [a] ‘hate economy’—of corporations profiting and making money off of us getting at one another’s’ throats.”
Concerned Netflix employees repeatedly warned the company the special would incite hatred and violence before its release. The special, titled “The Closer,” is best described as a 1 hour 12 minute hate rally caught on camera. Chapelle uses the veneer of comedy to fantasize aloud about murdering a woman who criticized his misogyny, brags about assaulting a lesbian, and claims he’s on “team TERF,” aligning himself with the anti-trans hate movement which occasionally couches its rhetoric in the language of feminism. For his previous special, “Sticks and Stones,” Chapelle tried to use his friendship with a trans activist and comedian Daphne Dorman to shield himself from criticism for his transphobia. Dorman later died by suicide. Shortly after her death, Chapelle joked that he’d tell Dorman’s surviving daughter “your father was a great woman.”
Netflix’s CEOs doubled down on platforming Chapelle’s bigotry, denied that it was incitement to violence and plan to continue to work with the comedian. Despite this, the company lost money by airing Chapelle’s specials. The previous special, “Sticks and Stones,” cost Netflix $23.6 million and brought in $19.4 million according to internal documents Bloomberg reviewed. Netflix cited the leak of these internal documents as the reason they fired B. Pagels-Minor, the 33-weeks-pregnant trans person who worked as a program manager for the company. Pagels-Minor, speaking through their lawyer, denied leaking the information.
“Dave Chapelle’s been just punching down for the last couple of years, which is a really sad departure from his usual work, but now we’re seeing it actually amount to real world hatred, real world bigotry and real world violence,” Vishal Singh, a filmmaker and independent reporter who works with a company contracted with Netflix told LCRW. For full disclosure, Singh is a friend and colleague and LCRW staff have reported alongside them at many events in the Los Angeles Metropolitan area and beyond.
“We’ve always been aware of the normalization of transphobia from someone like Dave Chapelle, but it escalates to another level when Netflix corporate actually takes a stance to support that transphobia and then actually engages in retaliation against any employee or filmmaker working for Netflix—or working with Netflix like I am—and actually taking measures against them,” Singh said.
LCRW asked Singh if Netflix administrators’ decision to platform Chapelle were endemic of broader issues the company has with how it treats its queer, trans and non-binary employees. Singh said Netflix represents itself as a safe and inclusive space but “when something like this happens, you see how performative that kind of attitude is.” Singh, who’s non-binary, said that queer people like them “feel tokenized;” that they’re used in order to rainbow-wash the white cis men playing by the same old bigoted rules at the top of the corporate pyramid.
“They run this tech company as if it’s a studio and they really follow all those old-school bigotries that consolidate power and consolidate who’s allowed to speak in terms of media and entertainment,” Singh said.
Among those who spoke in support of the walkout were Mayor Pro-Tempore of West Hollywood Sepi Shyne and Burbank city councilmember Konstantine Anthony. Anthony implied he would use a contract the city of Burbank signed with Netflix for a film studio to pressure the company. Shyne told Netflix heads they should honor the walkout’s demands and watch “Disclosure,” a 2020 documentary on Netflix in which “leading trans creatives and thinkers share heartfelt perspectives and analysis about Hollywood’s impact on the trans community.”
Another notable celebrity attendee was David Huggard, better known as Eureka O’Hara, one of the hosts of We’re Here on HBO and a former contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
“I need everyone to understand that your jokes are promoting hateful and discriminatory behavior and conversation—and that is what hurts us. It is not the fact that you laughed at it—it’s the fact that you’re laughing in the face of our pain,” Huggard said. They went on to talk about how the people belittled by Chapelle’s transphobia, especially trans women of color, are often murdered, battered, forced into sex work, and are “forced into not having a legible, living life because they don’t get the respect they deserve at work, they don’t get the roles of power they deserve at work and they don’t get recognized for the creativity that they have.”
Netflix employees’ and walkout supporters’ concerns about Chapelle’s incitement to violence were proven right about an hour into the rally when a right-wing podcaster called Dick Masterson, otherwise known as Dax Herrera, showed up with his colleague Vito Gesualdi to disrupt the event. Masterson tried to shove his way through the crowd gathered around the speakers and got into a brief fight when people tried to shove him away. According to two witnesses, one who declined to be named, Masterson put someone in a chokehold during the scuffle.
“Dude straight up had his poster on a stick, used it to put a dude in a headlock, almost start strangling him,” Teagan Meyer, a walkout supporter who witnessed the altercation, told LCRW.
“He used the poster to literally put it on the other side of someone’s neck and went ‘oh, why are you touching me? I’m not doing anything! You guys are assaulting me!” Dude almost choked a man!” Meyer said.
“Thank goodness someone was there to just jump in and stop that shit immediately!” Meyer concluded, referring to an antifascist who shoved Masterson away, breaking his hold on the unidentified person’s neck.
Masterson wrote a book called “Men Are Better Than Women” and has a podcast called “The Dick Show” where he appeals to the post-gamergate online far-right by talking about things like the incel music festival Virginfest and dogecoin. After the rally, Masterson took to his social media to complain that he was assaulted. His followers promptly started talking about identifying the people who intervened.
“Looks like another job for /pol/,” one follower commented on “The Dick Show’s” Instagram. “Time to weaponize autism,” another said. /pol/ is the nazi-infested “politically incorrect” board on 4chan where much of the early Trump-era online far-right congregated and often coordinated harassment campaigns. Crowd-sourced doxxing attempts there were often called “weaponized autism.”
Desauldi, who regularly appears on “The Dick Show,” also tried to force his way up to the front during the event. Blossom C. Brown, a local activist and actress, pushed Desauldi out right before she spoke.
“Right as I was about to go [speak] I felt a nudge and somebody was shoving me and it was him (Desauldi),” Brown told LCRW. “So what I did was grabbing him by the backpack and pulling him all the way back with one hand—because they didn’t know a black trans woman could do that!”
“I was just like, ‘You got us messed up, but what you’re not gonna do is you’re not gonna disrupt the speakers. If you’re gonna protest and go have a hissy fit, go have it over there—not here. I’m not with it. No thank you.” Brown said, laughing.
Brown had been directly confronting the bigots who disrupted the event all day.
“I had to deal with a TERF who said I was a man and I talked about her grandmother—I did. I sure did because I was petty. But you know, if my trans experience makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s on you, not on me,” Brown told LCRW.
A group of six or so “TERFs”—the so-called “Trans-exclusionary radical feminists”—at points chanted “Just be gay! Just be gay!” at the trans people present. “TERFs,” despite insisting they’re feminists, have a history of cozying up to the conservative movement. Among the anti-trans activists present that day was Joey Brite, who organizes anti-trans protests outside of clinics that treat trans youth in the Bay Area and has numerous ties to conspiracy theorists. People from a group called the “TERF Collective” also showed up. Annika Hodges, one administrator of the “TERF Collective’s” Facebook administrators, also demonstrated a clinic that treats trans youth in Portland, Oregon, and was credited with spreading anti-trans graffiti and stickers across that city.
LCRW asked Brown about how organized anti-trans activists affect trans, nonbinary and other queer peoples’ daily lives.
“I’ve learned to navigate through it, because as a trans person—we’re always in survival mode. Now, some trans people can’t take that. And that’s okay if they lash out at that, too. It’s an injustice and we don’t like injustice,” Brown said.
“For me, I’ve learned to navigate through that as a black trans person to fight back with my words and with my strength. I’m still here. Your words mean nothing to me. Your words can’t harm me because I’m still here making you upset,” she said.
“And that’s what I want. I want you to be mad at me at this point—that I live here; that I exist. It’s your problem, not mine. And that’s the kind of energy I’m on,” Brown concluded, laughing.
One last person who tried to make trans people his problem was Roman Drake, AKA Roman Gilbert, a small-time director and producer and a regular at L.A.-area COVID-denialist protests. Drake is incredibly violent, once bragging about assaulting a cancer patient outside of a hospital during an anti-mask protest.
“I fucked that cancer patient in the mouth and she took it like a champ,” Drake said on his Instagram.
Drake spent the day mostly hanging around Masterson and Desauldi, sometimes trying to join in with their trolling bits. LCRW asked Drake to confirm his identity and he denied it, saying his name was “Karl.”
“You were at the Capitol [Riot] right?” an antifascist asked Drake during LCRW’s interview with him.
“You’re not that Roman Drake guy who was going to fight Chad [Loder]?” LCRW asked.
“Oh yeah! Oh, I heard about that guy. Uh, he, uh, never came to the Capitol or something. I don’t know,” Drake replied. LCRW later confirmed that Drake was, indeed, not at the Capitol on January 6th.
“Haha, yeah, I really didn’t think they would recognize me,” Drake later told fellow COVID-denialist protest regular Travis Whitcher on Instagram. “They asked me if I was Roman and I was like nah Karl. They didn’t bother me the whole time but then sprayed me when I left.”
LCRW noticed Drake sitting a few blocks away from the event while it was winding down next to a FedEx. His face was puffy and he was talking to a cop. An ambulance later came for him because he’d been pepper-sprayed by an antifascist while being chased out.
“Another good recommendation about pepper spray, is don’t touch your balls,” Drake later posted on Instagram with a fire emoji next to the post. “It’s a mistake.”