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Chris Cuomo made an insensitive joke about preferred pronouns while introducing 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris at CNN’s LGBTQ-focused Equality Town Hall event on Thursday night in Los Angeles.
After the California senator was called to the stage, Harris told the audience: “Thank you guys. My pronouns are she, her and hers.” Harris’ comment about her preferred pronouns was met with applause from the audience — and a careless remark from Cuomo. “She, her and hers?” asked the CNN host, before quipping, “Mine too.”
Harris flatly replied: “Alright.”
KAMALA HARRIS: My pronouns are she, her and hers.
CHRIS CUOMO: Mine, too.
HARRIS: Alright. pic.twitter.com/09gJ2pygjd
— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) October 11, 2019
Cuomo, whose career as a broadcast journalist has spanned decades, is known to use the pronouns he, him and his. Pronoun introductions are significant and commonly used within the LGBTQ community — and seen as a progressive step toward a better understanding of gender identity.
Cuomo later apologized for his joke, saying he is “an ally of the LGBTQ community.” However, notable trans activists Angelica Ross and Indya Moore — who rose to fame as stars of FX’s groundbreaking series Pose, which centers on LGBTQ people of color, specifically black and Afro-Latinx trans women — explained in tweets why they believe saying sorry is not enough.
“What you should do @ChrisCuomo is not just apologize but admit what’s behind this is YOUR ignorance. You just showed you don’t understand the importance of pronouns, so how do you confidently crown yourself an ally?” wrote Ross, who attended the town hall and was invited by candidate Elizabeth Warren. “Learn from black & brown trans women @CNN #EqualityTownHall”
Talking with The Hollywood Reporter on Friday, Ross further expressed why Cuomo’s joke was out of line. “It’s wrong because he doesn’t understand that trans people are tired of being the butts of jokes,” she said. “And when we finally get a time where we think our issues are going to be taken seriously at an LGBTQ town hall, folks — like Chris, who are there to moderate and get down to the answers for us — show that they have no understanding of issues that seem like a joke to them, but are very real to me and my community.”
Added Ross: “If we can’t even call people by their preferred pronouns, which his remark made fun of, it shows that we’ve not even reached the simplest step in all of this — which is respecting trans people. We need to learn and listen to people. When they tell you who they are, believe them. And who they are includes their preferred pronouns.”
Ross recently served as the official host of GLAAD’s 2020 presidential candidate forum on LGBTQ issues in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which featured White House hopefuls Harris, Warren, Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Joe Sestak and Marianne Williamson presenting their respective visions for improving LGBTQ acceptance.
While Ross said that “some very relevant questions” were raised at CNN’s Equality Town Hall, she felt that “it was glaringly obvious that the voices of trans people of color were missing.” But if there is one candidate who seems to have a firm grasp on the issues that impact Ross’ community, it’s Warren, the actress says.
“When it comes to trans rights and rights for people of color, Elizabeth Warren is really setting the tone for the rest of the candidates to follow. She knows how to speak about issues with empathy rather than pander to my community,” said Ross. “When someone who is in the thick of the issues that plague us as trans women of color, Elizabeth seems to know where we’re coming from and she has answers. She doesn’t talk around in circles. I have been thoroughly impressed with Elizabeth Warren.”
Ross, who told THR she is still an “undecided” voter, continued: “A lot of times, I’m black first before people recognize I’m trans. And, so, the fact that Elizabeth Warren is willing to talk about police brutality, the mass incarceration of black people, about decriminalizing sex work — she has an open ear to all these issues. She is also someone who is extremely open to the truth and open to being moved. She is compassionate. If we have something going on that’s wrong, I know she will be a president who will listen.”
In the meantime, Ross would like Cuomo and CNN to pay closer attention to the voices of trans people of color as the 2020 election draws near — and to rectify Cuomo’s “mine too” lapse.
“I would like to see Chris Cuomo and CNN invite black trans women to the table and create space for us. Instead of speaking for us, allow us space on their platform. Also, if you truly say that you’re an ally and you know what this is about, then when it comes to other issues that have nothing to do with being trans, know that there are black trans people who can speak to those issues as well.”
Ross’ Pose co-star Moore — who identifies as gender nonbinary and prefers the pronouns they, them and theirs — reacted to Cuomo’s gaffe, writing, “I’m glad you showed yourself this way so that people can see that everywhere trans people’s conversations are gatekept by cis people our lives and issues won’t matter. Trans people’s pain and trauma is comedic relief not just to you, but to a vast part of this country.”
In Cuomo’s full statement regarding his offensive joke, he wrote: “When Sen. Harris said her pronouns were she, her and her’s, I said mine too. I should not have. I apologize. I am an ally of the LGBTQ community, and I am sorry because I am committed to helping us achieve equality. Thank you for watching our townhall.”
Oct. 11, 1:20 p.m. Updated with Ross’ quotes to The Hollywood Reporter.
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