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Activists slam Letterman for mocking transgender Obama appointee

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Gay-rights group Human Rights Campaign has written to CBS’s Late Show With David Letterman demanding an apology for a skit that mocked President Obama’s transgender appointee to monitor military technology exports.

In a skit aired Tuesday night, Letterman announced that President Obama had appointed Amanda Simpson, a 30-year veteran of the defense and aerospace industries, to a Commerce Department position, and noted that Simpson had once been a man.

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As a photo of Simpson came up on the screen, Alan Kalter, the show’s announcer, could be heard exclaiming, “What? Amanda? Amanda used to be a dude?”

Kalter is then seen running out of the studio, exclaiming “Oh my God!” in what was jokingly meant to suggest a Crying Game-like punchline to a sexual relationship.

“Your skit affirmed and encouraged a prejudice against transgender Americans that keeps many from finding jobs, housing, and enjoying freedoms you and your writers take for granted every day,” HRC Associate Director Allyson Robinson told Letterman in a letter circulated to media Wednesday. “We ask that you apologize publicly to Ms. Simpson and the transgender community for this unfortunate episode.”

The letter stated:

You may not be aware that the punch line in your skit has been used as a defense in nearly every hate crime perpetrated against transgender people that has come to trial. For example, the “trans panic” defense was infamously used by Allen Ray Andrade, who was convicted in 2009 of beating 19-year-old Angie Zapata to death with a fire extinguisher after learning of her gender history. According to media reports, it has also been the main defense employed by Juan A. Martinez for the killing of Jorge Steven López Mercado, 19, in Puerto Rico last November.

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Simpson is, in all likelihood, the first transgender person appointed by a president to an administration position. While some observers have said she may be filling the role of a minority “token,” the gay-rights blog Queerty says Simpson should rather be worried about attacks on her from right-wing media sources:

Her real worry should be with groups like MassResistance and Fox News, which have spearheaded efforts to slime other LGBT Obama appointees, including Kevin Jennings. These radical right-wing mouthpieces don’t care about the substance of your work nor your job qualifications, but about what makes you different. And we fully expect an assault on Simpson’s character, disguised as her “work ethic” or “prior missteps.”

And that effort appears already to be taking shape. Media watchdog MediaMatters reported Wednesday that an article at the conservative WorldNetDaily site referred to Simpson repeatedly as “he” and even put her first name in quotation marks.

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The following video was broadcast on CBS’s Late Show With David Letterman, Tuesday Jan. 5, 2009, and uploaded to YouTube by user MeltingIceCap.

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