News - April 1996

SNL news anchor makes offensive comment, picketing called off

(From a release by Transexual Menace) On Feb. 24's "Saturday Night Live", regular Norm MacDonald appeared during the "Weekend Update" before a blowup of a USA Today story.

It headlined the recent death sentence of convicted murdered John Lotter resulting from his part in the bloody, execution-style slaying of Brandon Teena, a 20 year old transexual man in Falls City, Nebraska, and two of his friends.

MacDonald had this to say about the sentencing: "In Nebraska, a man was sentenced for killing a female crossdresser [sic] who had accused him of rape and two of her friends. Excuse me if this sounds harsh, but in my mind, they all deserved to die."

Following close on the heels of a broadbased expression of outrage across the trans and queer communities, members of The Transexual Menace - NYC contacted NBC to vigorously express their shock and anger over MacDonald's statements. They received immediate responses from Dr. Roz Wineman (head of NBC Standards and Practices), Daniel Ferguson (Media Relations), Mr. Andrew Brewer (Standards & Practices, Community Relations), and Mr. Warren Littlefield's office (President of NBC Entertainment).

By mutual agreement between NBC and The Menace, an information packet was prepared for hand-delivery to Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Lorne Michaels, SNL's executive producer. The packet including a statement from The NYC Menace, pictures of Brandon, a list of recent trans hate crime murders, and the original Village Voice article by Donna Minkowitz.

Officials at NBC Office of Standards & Practices originally stated they were unaware of Mr. MacDonald's comments. Upon review of the SNL show, they agreed the "joke" was inappropriate and ill-considered.

Privately, Menace representatives were assured that Mr. MacDonald agreed the lines were in poor taste, and should never have aired. They were further assured that NBC would not be doing any more jokes of a similar nature in the future. To date, NBC has refused to air a public apology for the incident, stating that it is their corporate practice not to do so.

Along the way, special help for the Menace's actions was offered by two NBC staffers in particular. One who related how his brother's best friend had been a male-to-female transexual like Brandon. And another, who came out over the phone as a lesbian to a Menace spokestrans, and declared she completely understood and sympathized with the community's outrage over such "humor."

The actual facts of the case, as it emerged from the trial testimony, is that prior to Brandon's death, Lotter and co-defendant Tom Nissan (who testified against Lotter) abducted Brandon, beat him bloody, and then took turns raping him. When Falls City Sheriff Charles Laux refused to press charges in spite of Brandon's obvious wounds and sworn complaint, Lotter and Nissen returned just 5 days later, stabbing Brandon as he slept on the floor and then shooting him in the head. They then turned and shot to death two of his friends who were visiting, an African American man and his girlfriend.

Over 40 transexual, transgender and queer activists from across the US, including Leslie Feinberg, Kate Bornstein and Minnie Bruce Pratt, held a day-long Memorial Vigil outside the opening day of the murder trial which eventuated in Mr. Lotter's sentence. In an all-to-common progression of events, as the demonstrators were leaving the courthouse that day, yet another young transexual, Ms. Deborah Forte, was being violently stabbed to death back in Haverhill, MA.

General information: Jeff Walsh
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