Like a lot of stand-up comedians, Lil Duval trades in crude, provocative humor that riffs on social issues.
But was he joking when he told an immensely popular radio show over the weekend that he would kill a sexual partner if he found out she was a transgender woman? It sure didn't seem that way. And now he and his interviewers are facing backlash from critics who say he encouraged violence against transgender women.
On Friday, Lil Duval (aka Roland Powell) sat down with the "Breakfast Club," a New York-based variety talk show known for its edgy, sometimes profane interviews with celebrities, hip-hop artists and the occasional politician (yes, Hillary Clinton once made an appearance).
About six minutes into the segment, host Charlamagne Tha God (aka Leonard Lenard McKelvey) asked Lil Duval how he felt about President Donald Trump's proposal last week to ban transgender troops from serving in the military.
Lil Duval said, in effect, he didn't care. "I'm just doing my thing. Shout out to all the trannies out there," he said, using what is often considered a slur for transgender people. His interlocutors giggled at the remark.
At that point, one of the hosts asked him what he would do if he started dating and having sex with a woman and found out later in the relationship that she was a transgender woman.
"This might sound messed up, but I don't care, she dying," Lil Duval said.
The hosts pushed back on the comment. "That's a hate crime, you can't do that," Charlamagne told him.
"I can't deal with that," Lil Duval responded, growing visibly agitated by the question. "No, you manipulated me to believe in this thing. My mind, I'm gay now."
"I can't live with that, bro," he continued. "This would never happen if this never happened. So you don't have to worry about me killing nobody."
Charlamagne cut back in, saying he believed a transgender woman who didn't disclose to her partner that she was born male "should go to jail" or "some charges should be pressed."
Lil Duval agreed. "There should be some kind of repercussions for that if you do that to somebody," he said. "Until then, I'm going to have my own repercussions."
Throughout the conversation, Lil Duval was unambiguous about his feelings. When one of the hosts told him he "can't go around killing transgenders," Lil Duval seemed only to double down on his position.
"If one did that to me and they didn't tell me, I'm going to be so mad I'm probably going to want to kill them," he said.
Comedians, he added later, should avoid political correctness: "I can say what I want and do what I want, and people understand where I'm coming from. They know I'm not coming from a place of malice. They know I'm just speaking my mind."
Clips from the segment quickly went viral. Lil Duval's name became a trending topic on Twitter over the weekend, and activists launched the hashtags #BoycottBreakfastClub, #TransLivesMatter and #TransFolksAreNotJokes. The remarks drew condemnation from several prominent transgender women, including Laverne Cox, known for her recurring role in Netflix's "Orange Is The New Black."
"Some folks think it's ok to joke about wanting to kill us," Cox wrote on Twitter. "We have free speech but that speech has consequences and trans folks are experiencing the negative consequences with our lives. It hurts my spirit cause this isn't funny. Our lives matter. Trans murder isn't a joke."
The blowback continued into Sunday. Charlamagne, the "Breakfast Club" host, was speaking on an MSNBC panel at the media and politics convention Politicon in Pasadena, California, when a group of transgender advocates approached the stage and began yelling at him.
"The trans community is boycotting the 'Breakfast Club' because your music and your ideology reinforces transphobia that kills us," one person said. "We are not a joke."
Lil Duval had plenty of defenders on social media, many of them using language not printable here. One user tweeted he "said what any straight man would say." Lil Duval stayed away from the fracas except for a tweet to his 853,000 followers saying he had heard transgender people were "mad at me."
The comedian's comments come at a time of violence against transgender people. According to Human Rights Campaign, at least 15 transgender people have been shot or violently killed so far in 2017, most of them women of color.
Just last week, a former Navy sailor was sentenced to 40 years in prison for murdering a transgender woman, a term many advocates said was too lenient. Dwanya Hickerson admitted to stabbing Dee Whigham 119 times in a fit of rage when she revealed she was a transgender woman after a sexual encounter. "I lost it," he said.
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