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Netflix workers stage virtual walkout to join protest against trans jokes by Dave Chappelle

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Netflix offices in Los Angeles to express support for a virtual walkout by transgender employees of the streaming service as anger swelled over a new Dave Chappelle comedy special that activists say is harmful to the transgender community.

The streaming giant has found itself embroiled in an intense and highly public controversy over Chappelle's The Closer, in which the stand-up star insists 'gender is a fact' and accuses LGBTQ people of being 'too sensitive.'

Trans employees and their supporters were further outraged last week when Netflix fired one of the leaders of the 'trans employee resource group' who participated in organizing Wednesday's walkout.

The company said it dismissed the employee because it suspected him of leaking confidential information, including the $24.1million payment the company made to Chappelle to produce The Closer.

A spokesperson for the company announced on Friday: 'We have let go of an employee for sharing confidential, commercially sensitive information outside the company. 

People rally in support of the Netflix transgender employee walkout in Los Angeles on Wednesday

Netflix bosses braced for the employee walkout and rally in Los Angeles as anger swelled over a new Dave Chappelle comedy special that activists say is harmful to the transgender community

The streaming giant has found itself embroiled in an intense and highly public controversy over Chappelle's The Closer, in which the stand-up star insists 'gender is a fact' and accuses LGBTQ people of being 'too sensitive'

Protesters hold signs during a demonstration outside the Netflix offices in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles on Wednesday

A protester holds a sign that reads 'Hate isn't funny' during a demonstration outside Netflix offices in Los Angeles on Wednesday

Netflix's chief content officer, Ted Sarandos (left), acknowledged that he 'screwed up' by writing memos that denied Chappelle's comedy special, The Closer, was transphobic. But he has resisted demands by protest organizers to add a disclaimer to the special or to take it down from the service altogether. Chappelle is seen right in The Closer

'We understand this employee may have been motivated by disappointment and hurt with Netflix, but maintaining a culture of trust and transparency is core to our company.'

The longtime employee was fired for sharing that Netflix spent $24.1 million on The Closer and $23.6 million on his 2019 special Sticks & Stones. 

In comparison, the company spent $3.9 million for Bo Burnham's critically acclaimed comedy special Inside and $21.4 million for Squid Game, which became Netflix's biggest series launch.  

Those taking part in the virtual walkout will not do any work for Netflix. Instead, they will engage in content that supports the trans community as well as donate to charities. 

Lily Weaver holds a plackard as she attends a rally in support of the Netflix transgender employee walkout

Ashlee Marie Preston speaks to media during a rally in support of the Netflix transgender employee walkout in Los Angeles on Wednesday

Protesters make gestures during a demonstration near Netflix offices in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles on Wednesday

A counterdemonstrator (far left) holds a sign that reads 'Netflix, don't cancel free speech' during the protest near Netflix offices in Los Angeles on Wednesday

Another counterdemonstrator holds a sign that reads 'Learn to laugh at yourself' on Wednesday

Actor and activist Vico Ortiz shouts slogans during a protest in support of the virtual walkout by trans employees at Netflix on Wednesday

Drag queen Eureka O'Hara (left) speaks to a counter protester during a rally in support of the Netflix transgender employee walkout

Drag queen Eureka O'Hara speaks to protesters and assembled members of the press in Los Angeles on Wednesday

Netflix's chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, acknowledged that he 'screwed up' by writing memos that denied Chappelle's comedy special, The Closer, was transphobic. But he has resisted demands by protest organizers to add a disclaimer to the special or to take it down from the service altogether. 

Sarandos won support from his co-CEO, Reed Hastings, who told staff the firm was 'on the right side of history' for continuing to stream and promote The Closer. 

A group of employees calling itself Team Trans* scheduled a rally outside Netflix's 13-story Sunset Boulevard offices in Los Angeles, where activists, public figures and other supporters plan to present Sarandos with a 'list of asks.'

'We shouldn't have to show up quarterly/annually to push back against harmful content that negatively impacts vulnerable communities,' organizer Ashlee Marie Preston wrote in a social media post.

'Instead, we aim to use this moment to shift the social ecology around what Netflix leadership deems ethical entertainment.'

While such demonstrations have become commonplace in Silicon Valley, where employees of Facebook and Google have engaged in open protest to draw attention to corporate policies, this is believed to be a first for the pioneer streaming video company.

'It's violent to make members of the transgender community who work for your company participate in the oppression of their own community, and we’re here to disrupt that and stand in solidarity with the employees,' Preston told The Hollywood Reporter.

Preston organized the rally in front of Netflix offices in Hollywood so as to accommodate more people. 

'We respect the decision of any employee who chooses to walk out, and recognize we have much more work to do both within Netflix and in our content,' Netflix said in a statement, which said the company 'understands the deep hurt that's been caused.'

Organizers presented a list of 'firm asks' to Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos at Wednesday morning's rally, which leader Ashlee Marie Preston earlier said had been moved to a larger site due to 'overwhelming demand.'

Among the list of demands includes removal of all references to and imagery of Chappelle, including murals and posters, from the workplace as well as an official company statement acknowledging the 'harm' caused to the transgender community, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The company is also being asked to invest more money in trans-centered content as well as to set aside a fund specifically aimed at promoting trans and non-binary talent both behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera, according to the Times. 

Activists are also demanding that Netflix reform its 'internal processes' before releasing anything that has 'potential harmful content.'

The list of demands also includes promoting transgender people to top leadership roles in the company, including directors and vice presidents.

The organizers are also demanding that Netflix attach a disclaimer to The Closer that warns viewers of its 'transphobic language, misogyny, homophobia, and hate speech.' 

The walkout will call for content that prioritizes 'the safety and dignity of all marginalized communities,' she wrote on Instagram.

Transgender Netflix employee Terra Field has called on the streamer to add a content warning to The Closer, and to promote more 'queer and trans comedians and talent.'

'A place can't be a great place to work if someone has to betray their community to do so,' Field wrote in a blog post Monday.

The Closer has been condemned by LGBTQ groups, which cited studies linking stereotypes about minorities to real-world harm.

Sarandos wrote to staff in a leaked internal memo last week that 'content on screen doesn't directly translate to real-world harm,' and emphasized the importance of defending 'artistic freedom.'

But the co-CEO gave interviews to multiple Hollywood trade publications late Tuesday in which he admitted: 'I screwed up.'

'I should have first and foremost acknowledged in those emails that a group of our employees were in pain, and they were really feeling hurt from a business decision that we made,' he told The Hollywood Reporter.

While agreeing that 'content on screen can have impact in the real world, positive and negative,' Sarandos reiterated his belief that the Chappelle stand-up should not be taken down or have any disclaimer added.

'This group of employees felt a little betrayed because we've created such a great place to work that they forgot that sometimes these challenges will come up,' said Sarandos. 

It is not the first time Netflix has drawn fire for boundary-pushing content.

The coming-of-age story Cuties was accused of hypersexualizting young girls, and the teen suicide drama 13 Reasons Why was blamed for a rise in teen suicides.

The controversy of The Closer is playing out against the backdrop of a company-wide diversity effort that began in 2018, after Netflix's former head of communications was fired for using a racial epithet in company meetings while discussing offensive language in comedy.

'It doesn't feel good to have been working at the company that put that out there,' Terra Field, a software engineer at Netflix, wrote in a Medium post.

'Especially when we've spent years building out the company's policies and benefits so that it would be a great place for trans people to work.'

Three employees including Field were reportedly suspended last week after crashing a virtual meeting for executives on the Chappelle special, but later reinstated. 

Another was sacked for leaking internal data about the cost of the program.

The walkout and rally have drawn support from film and television celebrities such as Jameela Jamil (The Good Place) and Jonathan Van Ness (Queer Eye), who have recorded a video message expressing 'love and support' for the movement.

Acclaimed comedian Hannah Gadbsy - who has her own popular Netflix specials - last week called the streaming giant an 'amoral algorithm cult.'

Chappelle has been accused of mocking transgender people in the past, but remains hugely popular.

In The Closer, he describes a US rapper who 'punched the LGBTQ community right in the AIDS,' compares trans women to the use of Blackface, and jokes about threatening to kill a woman and stash her body in his car.

Chappelle - who is black - also argues that white gay people 'are minorities until they need to be white again,' and that LGBTQ communities have made progress in a few years that black people have not enjoyed in decades.