An ad funded by telecommunications company Sprint opposing AT&Ts proposed takeover of T-Mobile has been pulled after members of the trans community complained that it was insensitive and offensive. The ad, which ran Tuesday in various political print journals and on political websites, featured a man in a pink dress, cigar in hand, with the caption “It makes sense if you don’t think about it.”
You can see a picture of the ad here.
The ad ran in a variety of papers including Politico, Washington Post and the St Paul Pioneer Press among others, and was developed in conjunction with media groups including Media Access Project and the Center For Media Justice.
Sprint began receiving complaints almost out of the gate Tuesday and by mid-afternoon a Sprint representative issued a statement saying that, while Sprint still believes the AT&T/T-Mobile merger to be bad for consumers because it will, they say, create a monopoly in the GSM spectrum and will limit a consumer’s choice of providers, a point that will be argued before Congress in the near future, they “certainly apologize [if] the material offended anyone. That was not our intent.”
The matter came to a head when a complaint was lodged by Michi Eyre, REC Networks founder and herself a trans woman.
Eyre later wrote an open letter in which she said that, while she did not view this as intentional transphobia, the ad was insensitive and should not have been used.
Excerpts from the open letter appear below:
Today, I was alerted to a new advertising campaign that was funded by Sprint as a call to action to Congress to stop the AT&T acquisition of T-Mobile. The advertisement featured an older man holding a cigar and wearing a dress. I was even more surprised when I saw the names of some organizations that I am very familiar with including ones that REC has indirectly aligned with in the past but overall have been very supportive of in the FCC dockets over the past 15 years that we have been working on LPFM, access to the airwaves and rural broadband initiatives.
It is no secret that I am a transgender woman and between the time that LPFM was created and now, I have transitioned to my new identity. All you need to do is look at our filings prior to 2006 and you will notice.
While we consider the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender* (GLBT) community a media minority and we will put some strength into an issue that benefits the GLBT community, I do not run REC Networks necessarily as a GLBT advocacy entity but I, as an individual have done advocacy work including legal research, especially on the recent gender identity legislation in Maryland. I have a vested interest in Maryland as that is my birth state and I plan to relocate there in 2012.
But the ad, as innocent as it may seem, crossed the line. We are fighting a battle right now. Not necessarily a battle for acceptance, but a battle for minimal tolerance. Recent incidents such as the assault on Chrissy Polis in a Baltimore County McDonalds is the evidence that the mainstream media needs that violence against trans people is real. During the melee, the manager on duty at the McDonalds was telling people, “That is not a woman. That is a man.” During recent public hearings in Maryland, Maine and Nevada, we heard transgender women called “men in dresses”. We continue to see “men in dresses” portrayed on trash television shows like The Jerry Springer Show. We have seen recent negative stereotypes on Saturday Night Live and other shows on terrestrial and cable television.
So when this ad, that supposedly supports media justice issues shows up, imagine how I felt. What triggered my major concern was because the ad was a call to action to Congress to stop the T-Mobile/AT&T merger. Triggered only because many of us are doing calls to action to have Congress pass an Employment Non-Discrimination Act to protect transgender as well as gay and lesbian workers at medium and large businesses.
I am happy to report that the ad campaign has been pulled. I have received assurances from the Center for Media Justice that they don’t want to their name associated with transphobia and I appreciate their immediate response to this issue. Media Access Project has also acknowledged this issue and is addressing it.
As Eyre points out above, this doesn’t appear to be a case of intentional transphobia, but rather an insensitivity as to why this kind of image might harm an already persecuted minority and how it draws on hurtful stereotypes that have played a part in denying trans people their rights.
A federal trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act currently rests in Congress. It is not expected to be moved while the GOP controls the House, however it is hoped that Republican support can be increased so that the bill can be acted on when conditions are more favorable and employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation can finally be tackled. Read more on that here.