Transgender people and their allies are enraged over a decision to book comedian Dave Chappelle, for four shows beginning Tuesday night, at the Luther Burbank Center in Santa Rosa.
The comedian's show in Minneapolis was recently canceled and North Bay advocates are demanding the same thing happen here.
"I was upset the moment I heard that he was coming to Luther Burbank and that they were hosting him," said Orlando O'Shea, co-founder of a group called TRANSLIFE Sonoma. "Because they have very strong principles - in writing - of inclusion."
In his own way, Chappelle is also inclusive. He includes everyone in his biting, satiric commentary. But the transgender community is furious over his recent Netflix comedy special entitled, "The Closer."
"It was about 90 minutes long, and 60 minutes of that special was directed towards the trans community," said Jennifer Rihl, a senior committee member at TRANSLIFE.
O'Shea and Rihl have joined other transgender advocates in demanding the Luther Burbank Center cancel the four Chappelle shows. But Dese Cirelli discovered it was one hot ticket, as he left the box office empty-handed.
"Four sold-out shows," he said. "The fact they sold out in a couple of days, very popular. A lot of people want to see him."
But that's why the activists are so opposed. They say by making fun of transgender people from his popular platform, Chappelle is giving license to others in society to ridicule and even physically attack what is a tiny minority of people. The Luther Burbank Center said when they rented the venue out to Live Nation, they didn't realize it would be for Chappelle, but in a statement, they said:
"In the end, we determined it is not our role to censor, particularly from an organization renting our facility and one that provides diverse artists," said a statement from the center. "This decision was not made lightly."
There were long lines outside the venue ahead of Tuesday night's sold-out show.
"Diversity and inclusion is something that everyone should partake in, but I think that freedom of speech is one of our American rights," said Kim Jane of Santa Rosa. "So it's like how many people are we going to cancel just because of the fact that they're expressing themselves."
"I understand the other side but I'm going to have to agree with Dave on this one for most things, it's sensitive issues, but part of being a comedian - at least his style, which is also mine - is to be a little shocking, a little controversial," said Alex Davidson III, also of Santa Rosa.
"Anywhere you go people are going to say things you may not agree with," said Natalie Antonini of Santa Rosa. "but it's kind of just the world we're living in."
Rihl says she also believes in free speech but not if it contributes to suicide and murder within her community.
"In this sense, I am not concerned about being part of 'cancel culture,'" she said. "As long as this is to help protect my community, I'll do that."
The activists say they're accomplishing something just by speaking up, whatever the outcome.
"Realistically, the show is going to go on," said O'Shea. "You know, I don't think my goal was ever to shut the shows down, although we came out with that angle. My role is to be a voice and to stand up and say that the community is hurting because of this."
No one seemed to know if demonstrations were being planned for any of the shows, but the Burbank Center said they would allow "space for peaceful protests" if that should occur.
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