Fired Black Trans Netflix Employee Stands Their Ground

·5 min read
Walkout at Netflix
Walkout at Netflix

B. Pagels-Minor said they never imagined being at the center of a Netflix controversy. The former product manager at the streaming giant was fired over a week ago after Netflix accused them of leaking internal data to the press. Pagels-Minor, a leader of the company’s trans employee resource group and an organizer of Wednesday’s walkout, has denied doing so.

“It's a very strange position to be in because I never really expected myself to be here,” Pagels-Minor told The Advocate. They said they’re usually helping people from the wings, not being in the thick of it themselves.

That’s all changed.

The controversy began with Dave Chappelle’s latest special on Netflix, The Closer. In it, Chappelle announces himself to be “Team TERF,” comments about trans women’s genitals, and sides with DaBaby disparaging people living with HIV.

When the special came out, Pagels-Minor didn’t think much of it. They assumed it would be like Chappelle’s other specials, which were never free from antagonizing remarks but were never so inflammatory. Pagels-Minor only watched it after hearing the initial criticism.

“I was like, holy crap, this is some of the craziest stuff I've ever seen, and I can't believe this is on Netflix right now,” Pagels-Minor said.

Before the Chappelle special, Pagels-Minor says Netflix’s relationship with its trans employees was complicated. Leading the trans employee resource group, Pagels-Minor said they had to help trans employees navigate between managers, directors, and vice presidents at times.

“Someone I was talking to the other day was talking about how sometimes relationships feel a little abusive,” Pagels-Minor explained. “And what I mean by that is that you go into the situation, and you're like, well, this particular partner has treated me better than anyone else has ever treated me.”

They said that the shock of the special also comes from Netflix’s own supposed cultural values: If you see something, say something. “I’m going to loudly say this is not OK, and how the heck can we kind of figure this out and move forward from there,” Pagels-Minor said.

Netflix did not respond to The Advocate’s request for comment on this story by the time this article was published.

The company said this in a statement Tuesday to The New York Times about Pagels-Minor’s termination: “While we would never normally talk about an investigation like this,” the company contends that “this employee admitted sharing confidential information externally from their Netflix email on several occasions.” Netflix’s statement added, “They were the only employee to access detailed, sensitive data on four titles that later appeared in the press.”

Pagels-Minor denies leaking the information. They say they told Netflix they collected internal documentation and shared it widely with colleagues inside the company. “Their assertion that I'm the sole person who could possibly see this information doesn't make sense to me,” they said. The former product manager added they were honest to Netflix about erasing their devices after being terminated and about forwarding emails to their wife.

For what comes next for Netflix, Pagels-Minor said the company needs to listen to the asks presented by the Trans* Team at the company. Pagels-Minor said they believe the asks could provide a framework for minority content going forward. In a changing world, Netflix should pivot to content the resonates with these changes and with people’s changing identities. They said, “Gen Z is the most LGBTQ+ friendly generation, and so why would you not go ahead and invest in creating trans content now, so that when those individuals have their own Netflix accounts … that the content already exists?”

It’s also a chance for other media companies to do what Netflix has not done. Other companies could take up the mantle of providing more LGBTQ-focused choices. Pagels-Minor said they watch more HBO Max than Netflix because it has more Black LGBTQ+ content: “I really enjoy watching that content, because it really reflects the life that I have.”

As for the special itself, Pagels-Minor told The Advocate that they want to talk about Black people and being a part of the LGBTQ+ community.

“That's one of the things that is so hurtful about the special for me personally: It somehow presumes that the LGBTQ+ community is simply white folks, right? It couples this theory that the gays, as [Chappelle] says, are white people, and then they're emanating white supremacy,” Pagels-Minor said. “And then you have the civil rights movement and Black people and how that movement is being stagnated by the progress from the LGBTQ+ community. Well, what [Chappelle] does not understand in that argument is that he erases me. I am a Black trans person.

“I'm literally the most likely person to be harmed on any given day as I walk through the world because someone might simply look at me whether they're white, whether they're Black, whether they're any other ethnicity, whether they're also part of the LGBTQ+ community.”

Pagels-Minor cited the overwhelmingly disproportionate number of Black trans people killed in the U.S. each year.

“I would just like for people to acknowledge that I exist, and I deserve to have the opportunity to live.”

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