Gay legend Wanda Sykes slams ‘stupid and hateful’ anti-trans ‘bathroom’ bills

Wanda Sykes

Comedian Wanda Sykes has proved herself a trusted LGBTQ+ ally after proclaiming her “100 per cent support” for the trans community.

Sykes is no stranger to making the headlines. From co-hosting the notorious Oscars ceremony where Will Smith smacked Chris Rock, to passionately showing up for the Hollywood writers’ strike, the gay comedian, who came out as a lesbian one month after marrying her wife Alex in 2008, is always at the forefront of conversation – and her latest Netflix stand-up special, I’m an Entertainer, looks set to continue the trend.

Tackling many hot topics, including anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and Black Lives Matter, Sykes’ new show follows in the footsteps of genderqueer comedians Mae Martin and Hannah Gadsby who both dropped their stand-up specials on the streaming platform in the past two months.

The trio have inadvertently formed a queer counter-movement to the contentious Netflix shows of comedians Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais, who have both come under fire for their controversial trans comments.

In an interview with Variety, Sykes opened up about why she addressed the anti-trans “bathroom bills” sweeping the US, her thoughts on Chappelle and her reaction to being criticised as “woke”.

In US states such as Kansas and Idaho, new legislation prevents trans people from using public toilets that align with their gender identity. More widely, anti-trans discourse has already led to the harassment of both trans and cis people. “I knew that it’s such a delicate issue to talk about,” Sykes said. “I’m not trans, but they have my support, 100 per cent.

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Wanda Sykes has a new special on Netflix. (Aaron Ricketts/Netflix © 2023)

“I wanted to find something where I can shine some light on what they’re going through, to show how stupid and hateful it really it is.

“I was in a woman’s bathroom one time, and I was like, ‘Who would want to come in here anyway?’ It was like, ‘I want to go check out the men’s room. Sometimes, it’s even cleaner’. And that’s how that whole bit started. I’ve always been grossed out by bathrooms.”

As to whether Sykes thinks her special can balance out Chappelle’s trans comments in his stand-up special, The Closer, the answer is less clear cut.

“I don’t know about balancing it out,” she admitted, “because I think what he said was so hurtful and damaging to the trans community. So, yeah, the scale is still tipped in their favour. But I wanted to say something, because so much has been said on that platform. I definitely want something on the other side of it.”

Sykes and Chappelle have known each other for years, doing the same stand-up circuits in Washington DC but they haven’t spoken in recent times. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to him. If our paths did cross, I totally would say something,” she admitted.

Despite the constant negative news cycle, especially when it comes to LGBTQ+ and women’s rights, Sykes remains optimistic that we are making progress, especially compared with her experiences in previous decades.

Wanda Sykes at the Writers Guild of America strike. (MEGA/GC Images)
Wanda Sykes at the Writers Guild of America strike. (MEGA/GC Images)

“People would say all kinds of horrible things that we used to let [them] get away with,” she recalled. “But in this country, they would hold public lynchings and people would have picnics and eat potato salad while watching. We’re evolving. We’re getting better. 

“The steps back in both the news and comedy, that’s what makes the most noise, instead of the progress we’re making. I think they’re just louder, all the Trump supporters and all that.

“But I like to focus on the wins. I mean, there are not a lot of them, but I like to like to celebrate them.”

And if talking about the issues that matter the most in society is going to lead bigots and right-wingers furiously dubbing her a “woke” comedian then, frankly, she just doesn’t care.

“It’s pretty funny,” she continued. “If you want to give me the label of a ‘woke comic’, that’s fine. That’s great. What makes me laugh is that they say that like it’s an insult: ‘Oh, they’re woke’. 

“Thank you. Yeah, I read some stuff from time to time. Yeah, I know a few things.

“It’s not an insult at all. I mean, [actor and social critic] George Carlin, he was woke. Richard Pryor, woke. Bill Hicks, woke. It’s almost like they’re angry that we’re evolving. It’s sad.”

Wanda Sykes’ stand-up special, I’m an Entertainer, is available to stream on Netflix.

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