WASHINGTON - During the April 13th episode of the hit FOX series GLEE, the show's primary antagonist, Coach Sue Sylvester--portrayed by lesbian actress Jane Lynch--used the derogatory word "shemale" to punish and shame a gender non-conforming student as she cut off his ponytail. Gregory Varnum, executive director of the National Youth Advocacy Coalition ( NYAC ) , issued this statement in response:
PRESS STATEMENT, Gregory Varnum, Executive Director, National Youth Advocacy Coalition
"GLEE's potential impact on improving people's understanding and acceptance of youth regardless of their creed, race or sexual orientation is undeniable. The program has set an ambitious goal of showing youth that being different is okay. As an engaged audience, it is our responsibility to help the show's writers meet that worthy goal. The show's April 13th episode presents us with an opportunity to help a well-intentioned program see that even with those good intentions, their words can hurt some and offend others.
"For far too long the gender non-conforming members of our society have served as an easy source of humor. This bully-style humor just isn't as funny as the writers may think it is. I appreciate that using words like 'shemale' helps portray Coach Sylvester's character as antagonistic. However, the reality is that many watching the show will not appreciate the subtle messaging that since Coach Sylvester uttered the offensive term, it must be wrong to use. The reality is up to 99% of LGBT youth in public schools experience some form of bullying or harassment. Intentionally or not, GLEE's writers are perpetuating that situation by showcasing a school authority figure who mimics bullying behavior.
"The writing team for GLEE have proven that they have incredible talent and potential. I applaud their valiant goal and hope very much that they succeed. I would like them to use their talents to come up with a way to portray Coach Sylvester's character that does not revolve around her use of racist, homophobic and transphobic commentary. That strategy has been recycled many times already and frankly, it's getting old. If this show is truly hoping to improve how people who are different get treated, they will need to do better. We must hold them accountable. I know we can do better, and for the program's young audience, we must do better."