Trans, Nonbinary Actor Sues ‘Hamilton’

A former cast member charges that the show about equality wasn't equal.

BuzzFeed (“A Black Trans ‘Hamilton’ Cast Member Has Filed A Discrimination Complaint Against The Show“):

When Hamilton first opened on Broadway, the musical became nothing short of a sensation, racking up Tony Awards and being widely championed as a celebration of a diverse and progressive America.

But backstage, many involved in the hit show fell far short of those values, a former cast member alleged Wednesday in a federal complaint.

Suni Reid, who is Black, transgender, and nonbinary, said they were subjected to discrimination and harassment during their time in the show, where they played both principal and ensemble roles in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles productions since 2017. After requesting a gender-neutral dressing room, Reid’s contract was not renewed, a move they believe was in retaliation for speaking out on the issues they were facing.

“Publicly, Hamilton is a beacon of diversity and appears committed to causes seeking social justice and harmony,” Reid’s lawyers, Lawrence M. Pearson and Lindsay M. Goldbrum, said in a statement. “Behind the curtain, however, the Company’s management will force out a Black, transgender cast member simply because they stood up for themselves and advocated for a more equitable workplace, and therefore called that public image into question.”

According to the complaint, which was filed with the Los Angeles office of the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, Reid was repeatedly misgendered and mocked for their gender presentation during performances of the show. In dressing rooms, male cast members allegedly derided them for wearing dresses, at times calling them “auntie” and “Madea.”

In June, while performing in the Los Angeles cast, Reid requested a gender-neutral dressing room be made available. “This request was driven by the bullying and attacks that Mx. Reid had faced in the male dressing rooms at Hamilton in the past, as well as Mx. Reid’s knowledge that other cast members would welcome having such a space available as well,” the complaint states.

Instead, managers said they would simply section off part of the main dressing room with a sheet or curtain, a solution Reid said would be inadequate.

It was after raising the dressing room issue that Reid said they began to face retaliation. Despite Reid having been given contract renewal paperwork in May, the show’s HR rep emailed them in late June saying she’d learned that some of their Instagram posts showed “continual and consistent disparagement of Hamilton and its leadership team,” and suggested Reid therefore “might not want to resume
[their] relationship with Hamilton.”

In the complaint, Reid denies the characterization of their posts, saying they “were not disparaging of the show, but rather raised issues of discrimination” that they and others faced while working on Hamilton and in the theatre industry. Reid replied to the HR rep, reassuring her they did want to remain in the cast and offering to discuss the posts as needed.

“Tragically for Mx. Reid, Hamilton’s management would not drop their retaliatory animus and/or fear of Mx. Reid as a supposed threat and squeaky wheel, someone who was willing to raise issues and had dared to question the Company’s real commitment to anti-discrimination and employees’ legal rights,” the complaint states.

[…]

A spokesperson for Hamilton responded to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News denying the allegations that management had discriminated or retaliated against Reid. The spokesperson also said a contract “with terms responsive to their requests” was offered.

“We have treated Suni with the same respect and consideration as all the company members of Hamilton,” the spokesperson said. “Specifically, we have given Suni direct financial support, paid for their health insurance, and paid for their housing. We wish Suni well in their future endeavors.”

Given that the nature of lawsuits is that attorneys start off with extreme positions, I really don’t know what to make of the charges and counter-charges. But I’m amused by the notion that, just because Lin-Manuel Miranda intentionally made “Hamilton” to make a statement about the contradictions between the Founders’ rhetoric on equality and the realities of racial justice, that it would be somehow contradictory if the production staff or members of the cast were less than perfect on being supportive of the full range of the human experience. It would hardly be unusual for activists for Black and Latino equality be less than enthusiastic for trans or binary recognition.

But, as with the Founders, it’s natural for Miranda’s words to be used against him. Even on racial justice, he’s been forced to apologize for privileging the casting of lighter-skinned Hispanics in the filmed version of “The Heights.”

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, Popular Culture, Race and Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. wr says:

    Maybe there’s some disturbing information to come out, but this person sounds like a major pain in the ass. Many of the complaints are flat-out unbelievable — like the idea that the cast of a Broadway musical is filled with anti-gay and anti-trans bigots.

    My take — which of course could be wrong, since I know no one involved: Major pain in the ass actors manages to alienate everyone in the cast and crew. Finally this actor starts posting derogatory things about the show on social media, at which point the contract is not renewed.

    To me, “someone who was willing to raise issues” is about as credible as “I’m not anti-vax, I’m just asking questions.”

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  2. Mu Yixiao says:

    I agree with wr. Broadway (and musical theatre in general) is not exactly known for being a hotbed of bigotry.

    And… unless you’re a serious lead, you don’t get to pick your dressing room. It sounds like they wanted a private room when they didn’t rank having one. That’s a major no-no.

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  3. KM says:

    In June, while performing in the Los Angeles cast, Reid requested a gender-neutral dressing room be made available. “This request was driven by the bullying and attacks that Mx. Reid had faced in the male dressing rooms at Hamilton in the past, as well as Mx. Reid’s knowledge that other cast members would welcome having such a space available as well,” the complaint states.

    Instead, managers said they would simply section off part of the main dressing room with a sheet or curtain, a solution Reid said would be inadequate.

    What other cast members? Is Reid saying that there are others who would utilize such a space with them or is it an attempt to get a private dressing room as @Mu noted? Sectioning off a segment of a communal room isn’t ideal in terms of secure privacy or separating from a harasser – you can certainly yell through a screen. A repurposed closet could have sufficed but somehow I get the feeling that would have been treated as another slight. Making an official third area would require making it large enough for others to use, though and that seems to be Reid is using for justification. Fine – identify who would have wanted or benefited from the space because otherwise they are asking for a private dressing room based on unsubstantiated claims.

    Having a gender-neutral changing room means that anyone can use it, including the people Reid says were harassing them. Separate measures would need to be taken to keep the alleged harassers at bay then but do not appear to have been requested. What seems to be asked here was a private space using gender issues as a shield with no further protections or safeguards in play -a curious choice from someone suing about harassment.

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  4. R. Dave says:

    It’s the allegedly disparaging Instagram posts that cinch it for me. If you have complaints about your employer that aren’t being resolved to your satisfaction internally, you can either quit or sue. If you don’t have legal grounds for a lawsuit, then you can’t just air the complaints in public to pressure/punish your employer and then reasonably expect to remain employed by them.

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  5. Gustopher says:

    Since we literally have no idea whether the allegations are true, the comments here have an unfortunate air of just punching the freak.

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  6. EddieInCA says:

    What @wr said is 100% correct.

    Bottom line is that they doesn’t have a right to work on “Hamilton”. The show didn’t fire them. The show fullfilled is obligation per the contract, then chose not to renew it.
    They don’t have to give a reason for not renewing the contract. He doesn’t have a right to an “extended contract” or a “new contract”. It doesn’t matter why they chose not to renew.

    I see this being tossed immediately, because he has no grounds on which to sue.

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  7. wr says:

    @Gustopher: “Since we literally have no idea whether the allegations are true, the comments here have an unfortunate air of just punching the freak.”

    I’m sorry if you take it that way. But there are trans people in this country fighting against real discrimination, a lot of which is getting worse every day. This is a person who defamed his employer on social media and then sued when their contract — which had expired — wasn’t renewed. And then everyone who is busy engaging in or denying the real discrimination can point to this story and say “see? It’s all a bunch of crap.”

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  8. Pete S says:

    @KM:
    A seperate dressing room is worse than useless. It would seem to serve as an admission that the bullying is happening but will not be addressed and stopped.

    Like at most companies as a manager I get annual training in dealing with harassment. Isolating the target is a solution I have never heard. Indeed isolating someone is treated as a form of bullying.

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  9. R. Dave says:

    @Gustopher: the comments here have an unfortunate air of just punching the freak.

    You’ll have to be more specific. We’re talking about Theater People here – they’re *all* freaks!

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  10. KM says:

    @Gustopher:
    Really? My point was that if the allegations were about serious harassment, asking for a private dressing room doesn’t address them. Yes it provides a secure space but it won’t stop harassment outside of that space. Isn’t that a concern? Why wouldn’t you say they didn’t protect you everywhere and ask for more protections? For instance, what about the bathrooms – any harassment you’d have in a dressing room would carry over to bathrooms as well…. unless the request for a private dressing room was to have one with a personal bathroom attached. A reasonable request if one is attempting to protect an employee but it also a difficult one to carry out. It’s not like there’s a lot of those to go around, after all if they even have them at that particular venue.

    The proposed accommodation of separating out a space in the common area would work if privacy was the concern but not safety. If safety is the major concern, then why aren’t other requests being made? A gender-neutral area is available to everyone, even the harassers unless they are specifically excluded but not such request is noted as having been put forth. That seems like a logical followup, right? So the request is really “give me a private dressing room”, a request that has real weight in theater and needs to be justified. Based off what we know, it isn’t – the proposed accommodation should have been enough. Citing being trans or non-binary is not going to get you a perk when something else can meet your needs. You don’t have to *like* it, it just has to be sufficient.

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  11. Mu Yixiao says:

    @R. Dave: @R. Dave:

    We’re talking about Theater People here – they’re *all* freaks!

    Hey! I resemble that remark!

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  12. EddieInCA says:

    @Gustopher:

    Sorry. No.

    Theatre people being anti-gay or anti-trans?

    Sorry. No.

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  13. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Gustopher:

    Since we literally have no idea whether the allegations are true, the comments here have an unfortunate air of just punching the freak.

    There are enough of us that work (or have worked) in or adjacent to the industry to understand the culture and context in which these things are alleged to have happened. A few points that stand out:

    1) Mocked for gender presentation: Doubtful. Musical theatre groups are significantly gay or bi, and don’t have issues with how queer people present themselves. That’s not part of the culture.

    What is part of the culture is tossing playful insults at each other. Actors will call each other “fags” or other such terms all the time with zero animosity involved. (e.g. “Check out my new shoes!” “Pink glitter? Girl, you are such a fag!”)

    2) Gender neutral dressing room (a): As mentioned above, asking for a private dressing room when you haven’t earned on is a serious social/business faux pas. Private dressing rooms are a mark of rank.

    3) Gender neutral dressing room (b): Anyone who’s worked in theatre above the high school level knows that most dressing rooms are de-facto gender neutral. Everyone has seen everyone else naked, the chorus rooms have zero privacy, and anyone in an ensemble or private dressing room has spent years in the chorus rooms.

    4) Instagram posts: Theatre is a very “closed” culture–in the fact that everybody knows everybody. You do not trash the cast–or you will very quickly find that you aren’t getting cast–or even called to audition. The nature of the business is that you’re “looking for a job” every few months. If word gets out that you’re a trouble-maker, you’ll find yourself out of a job. And this lawsuit assures that “Mx.” Reid has gotten themself labeled as a trouble-maker. And theater is a place where you can be rejected for reasons that wouldn’t fly anywhere else–and it’s not discrimination. You can literally say to an actor’s face “Sorry. This is a role for a white person, we’re not casting black people for it.”

    Any one of these things would make people familiar with the industry a bit skeptical. All of them together just don’t pass the smell test.

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  14. EddieInCA says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Nailed it!

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