Suni Reid: Black trans actor sues 'Hamilton' production over no gender-neutral rooms
A Los Angeles production of 'Hamilton' is currently under the scanner after one of its cast members filed a federal civil rights complaint. Suni Reid, a Black transgender actor who has been with the production for over two years has accused the company of failing to stop harassment and firing them over their request for a gender-neutral changing room. The suit was reportedly filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Los Angeles on October 13.
The status of transgenders in the US has become a subject of great debate, particularly in schools. A Virginia school is currently facing heat after a dad alleged his daughter was raped by a "skirt-wearing boy" in the girl's bathroom. In June, a Loudoun County School Board meeting turned violent over a proposed policy for transgenders, resulting in the arrest of two men. Comedian Dave Chappell is also facing massive heat, over his trans jokes in his latest Netflix special 'The Closer'.
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Reid's long lawsuit indicates just how difficult life can be for transgenders at work. They claim to have "experienced frequent incidents of discrimination and harassment from cast members and management of Hamilton." The production though, alleges that it was Reid's social media posts that led to their firing and not as they claim, the lack of a gender-neutral space.
Production wanted to cordon off area with curtain
Around May 2021, Reid's contract was up for renewal, and during negotiations, they asked for a separate gender-neutral changing room. The lawsuit says it was meant not just for them, but for any and all cast members who wanted to use it. The production, however, refused. Instead, they offered to cordon off an area of the men's changing room with a curtain or sheet, which Reid said was not "adequate".
The impasse led Hamilton production to "began looking for reasons to cut off its relationship", and it allegedly stopped contract negotiations. When pressured, the company blamed Reid's "problematic" social media posts, which were posts against racism Reid had been making long before the negotiations began. In July 2021, as it looked highly unlikely the production would retain Reid, they hired lawyers who sent a letter to the Hamilton team notifying them that they were in violation of federal and state law.
Nonetheless, throughout the summer of 2021, Reid was excluded from rehearsals and preview performances as well as the show's opening night. In September, they were informed Hamilton would not be renewing the contract. That was despite a workaround being made and cast members having access to a gender-neutral space. Adding to this, Reid has also listed several examples of being bullied and harassed by some cast members.
Hamilton denies allegations, tells a different story
In their lawsuit, Reid said, "Publicly, Hamilton is a beacon of diversity and appears committed to causes seeking social justice and harmony. 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."
The production hit back with a statement of its own, published via Deadline. "Suni Reid was a valued cast member for more than three years. We offered them a contract to return to Hamilton with terms responsive to their requests. We deny the allegations in the Charge. We have not discriminated or retaliated against Suni," they said. The statement also added, "We have treated Suni with the same respect and consideration as all the company members of Hamilton. 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."
It's unclear when Reid's case will be heard and what the future holds for them. For now, though, they are busy putting the spotlight on the often-ignored theatre industry. "It's very unfair that this company gets to enjoy the benefits of these claims of diversity and inclusion, but essentially excommunicate someone who spoke up about it," they told the Los Angeles Times. Reid added, "It feels as though Broadway and the entire industry has reopened without necessarily acknowledging a lot of these things."