Sarah Silverman equal-pay ad prompts transgender backlash

Comedian and writer Sarah Silverman
Comedian and writer Sarah Silverman

New campaign for National Women's Law Center accused of 'insensitivity' toward transgender community

NEW YORK — Comedian Sarah Silverman inadvertently sparked controversy last week by starring in a video promoting The Equal Payback Project, which hopes to help pay back women for "the money they lose just for having a vagina."

In the online ad, which has racked-up almost one million views on YouTube, Silverman agrees to surgery that will make a man out of her, with the idea that having a penis will finally earn her equal pay.

While Silverman's heart was in the right place, the ad, created by Droga5 for the National Women's Law Center, managed to offend some in the transgender community, which itself is marginalized in the workplace.

"The National Center for Transgender Equality is struck by the insensitivity of Sarah Silverman's video and we have reached out to the National Women's Law Center to provide a cultural competency training to ensure that transgender people are always part of the conversation when it comes to the wage gap," Vincent Paolo Villano, director of communications for the National Center for Transgender Equality, told Campaign US.

Villano said the video made light of the transgender community’s struggle for equal pay. "As we found in the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, transgender people are four times as likely to live in extreme poverty – a household income of $10,000 a year or less – compared to the general public," he said.

"The wage gap has deep relevance for transgender people and this video highlights a significant learning opportunity for all of us to remember that."

For her part, Silverman seemed to take the incident as a teachable moment, tweeting the following: "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," she wrote. "I certainly don't only fight for causes that concern or benefit me and I expect the same of the vital trans community."

Droga5 and NWLC did not respond to a comment request, but issued a statement about the controversy Thursday afternoon.

Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the NWLC, wrote: "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," she wrote.


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