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Last week, Dave Chappelle performed at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis after one of his performances was moved from the First Avenue due to backlash against his transphobia. First Avenue posted an apology to social media, saying it "lost sight of the impact [Chappelle's show] would have" in the name of "diverse voices and the freedom of artistic expression."

Chappelle himself routinely holds up freedom of expression in response to criticism. This argument, that freedom of expression itself justifies whatever is being expressed, ignores the very reason freedom of expression matters: Speech is a powerful tool.

Chappelle's highly criticized Netflix special "The Closer" is a mixed bag on queer topics. He stood up for J.K. Rowling's transphobia, identified himself as a TERF (trans exclusionary radical feminist), and compared trans women to white people wearing blackface. However, he also tackles the issue of racism within white queer communities, and makes some great jokes about North Carolina's transphobic bathroom bill. With some exceptions, the transphobia in "The Closer" is a low hum rather than a roar. "The Closer" is like many pieces of art: Some parts of it are just bad.

The bigger issue is that Chappelle's comments do not exist in a vacuum. The U.S. is experiencing an unprecedented wave of legislation specifically targeted against transgender people, most of it aimed at erasing us from public education and limiting our access to health care. Transgender people are already more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than are cisgender people, are more likely to be homeless and are more likely to not have access to health care when we need it. In 2021, 52% of transgender youths had seriously considered suicide in the past year. According to the same study, 94% of queer youths reported recent politics had made their mental health worse.

Speaking personally as a trans man, I have been exhausted and scared by state governments' increasing attempts to oppress and erase people like me, and have been even more scared by the social support for these efforts. Not all targets of jokes are created equal, and transgender people are already increasingly discriminated against and marginalized.

Rather than recognize this, Chappelle has doubled down. His show in Minneapolis reportedly included punchlines ridiculing transgender people who object to his statements, and claims that monkeypox is a "gay disease." He seems fixated on criticisms of his transphobic rhetoric, even (incorrectly) quipping after being attacked on stage last May that "it was a trans man." Toward the end of his latest special ("What's in a Name?") he talks about the backlash to "The Closer" and remains completely unwilling to admit any fault in it. He jokes that "a man that was dressed in women's clothing threw a pie at the Mona Lisa and tried to deface it, and it made me laugh, 'cause I'm like, it's like 'The Closer.' " This lie, that trans people are disguising themselves as a different gender, is blatantly transphobic and used as rationale for discrimination in legal protections, restrooms and sports.

Rhetoric has power over what is publicly acceptable, and thus has consequences. For a recent example, there was a spike in hate crimes against Asian people in the U.S. following the racist discourse about COVID-19. Chapelle's argument, "[t]he more you say I can't say something, the more urgent it is for me to say it. It has nothing to do with what you're saying I can't say. It has everything to do with my right and my freedom of artistic expression," ignores this aspect of speech. Art is not immune to the prejudices of its time, nor is it immune to criticism. Just because you have the ability to spread bigoted rhetoric doesn't mean you should.

Chappelle uses his platform to reinforce queerphobic and transphobic beliefs. At the end of "The Closer," he claimed he was done talking about the LGBTQ community "until we are both sure we are laughing together," a promise he has unfortunately ignored. Chappelle is an extremely talented comedian, but encouraging hate just isn't funny.

Zoe Hermer-Cisek, of Minneapolis, is a student at the University of Minnesota. He is at zoehermercisek@gmail.com.