ABC's new sitcom Work It will premiere Jan. 3 amidst growing outrage from the transgender community over the premise of the series, which portrays two unemployed men who dress as women to find a job. The series has already infuriated the trans community with a promotional ad depicting the two men dressed as women standing at a urinal, ostensibly urinating in a men's restroom. The series itself is a rehash of the Bosom Buddies sitcom of the '80s, yet the promo graphics and trailer bear ill tidings of a far less amusing portrayal of cross-dressing and, inherently, of transsexual women.
While the premise is ugly, the entire concept is uglier in that the potential for fundamentalist hate groups to use these graphics in anti-transgender lobbying is almost a certainty. The use of the image of two men in women's clothing at a urinal -- obviously in a men's public restroom -- will only further their contention that trans-identified women should not be allowed in women's public restrooms, and that they should only be allowed in male-orientated spaces. The show also will fuel the idea that trans women are just "men in dresses." To a happy end of their own, anti-transgender groups will enjoy the free ride to their advocacy at the expense of the trans community, so neatly prepackaged by ABC.
In Facebook discussions, a trend among arguments made by gay male commenters is that the premise of the series is harmless, despite it being an obviously marginalizing and insulting portrayal of trans people. While one might argue that it is simply humor (at the expense of trans people), I doubt very seriously that the storyline will educate the viewer on the risk of violence that trans women face on any given day, or suggest that a trans woman at a urinal in a male restroom faces a potentially dangerous situation, given that such a practice would put a trans woman at risk.
From a political aspect, the series has the potential to endanger attempts to pass non-discrimination ordinances and laws where public accommodation language is necessary to protect trans women and trans men in using the restroom facilities appropriate to one's gender identity, and in general public accommodations such as restaurants and hotels. Hate organizations will not hesitate to use any miscues from this show in their lobbying efforts to stop such language in ordinances and laws.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) gives the Walt Disney Company (the corporate parent of ABC) a perfect score of 100, or best-rated, in its 2012 Corporate Equality Index. While this rating was calculated prior to initial Work It screening, HRC should take a deeper look at the rating awarded and reduce the rating to that of less-than-acceptable. Given that the series will no doubt air in just a couple of weeks, and given that the department store chain Target was de-rated for negative LGBT aspects, HRC should not hesitate to do the same for Disney.