As you may know already, Amanda Simpson is the first openly transgendered Presidential appointee; Obama selected her as Senior Technical Adviser at the Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security. Unfortunately, this historical moment is nothing but cheap laughs on late-night television.
Letterman: Well here's something interesting. President Obama has appointed a transgender person, a transgender person. Her name is Amanda Simpson and he has appointed her to be part of the Commerce Department. We have a photo, here she is right there. Yeah, that's Amanda Simpson--
Alan Kalter: What?
Letterman: and she's a transgender...
Alan Kalter: AMANDA? Amanda used to be a dude? OH MY GOD! (Runs away, disgusted)
Letterman: (Keeps it together, acts like, "What's his problem? Weird," then starts laughing) Will you talk to him later for me?
This of course, is not the first time late-night hosts have made jokes at the expense of transgendered people, and will probably not be the last.
When Kalter "interrupts" (in quotes because Letterman was basically just going "Transgendered person, transgendered person, picture of a transgendered person! Look at the transgendered person!" instead of actually saying anything about Simpson, her credentials, or even about her position, let alone referring to her as a woman.) and then runs out of the room disgusted, he's invoking both transphobia and homophobia, and reducing the qualified, federally-appointed Simpson to her genitals. And when he says "Amanda used to be a dude?" he once again erases her identity as a woman and insults someone who, from what I understand, has always been open about her identity. Plus the whole I-didn't-know-she-was-a-trans-woman has, as Joe and Jos have pointed out, been used to justify violence and murder of transgendered people, and is never okay or funny.
Pam from Pam's House Blend has even more on why this is not just some stupid late night schtick:
That video is such a flaming, ignorant, bigoted pile of horsesh*t, but just saying so cannot be where it stops. Letterman's clear cluelessness that any aspect of this "humor" is wrong should be a wake up call to our movement leaders that the general public, potential allies in the struggle for the passage of an inclusive ENDA, are woefully uneducated.
And what that means is when the right wing comes after us with the "bathroom arguments" and the "tranny teacher" scarefest, we have to have legitimate, thought-out responses, not silence or simply saying how ignorant it is. People genuinely have concerns because the trans population is so small overall that the majority of people have no personal frame of reference to draw positive conclusions, let alone pick up the phone and call their member of Congress to be an advocate.
Sign an online petition at Change.org demanding Letterman apologize for the harmful and tastelessness of his bit!
Anti-Trans Letterman Skit Insults Obama Appointee Amanda Simpson [Joe. My. God.]
WTF, David Letterman? [Pam's House Blend]
Stop David Letterman if you've heard this transphobic joke before [Feministing]