Radio host Dave Wheeler fired following controversial comments about transgender people

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Dave Wheeler is pictured here in a Twitter post from Sept. 22, 2015. (Dave Wheeler/Twitter)

Rogers Media says it has fired 92.1 CITI FM radio host Dave Wheeler following controversial comments about transgender people that he made on his Winnipeg program Wheeler in the Morning this week. 

Rogers Media spokesperson Andrea Goldstein confirmed the firing in an emailed statement Wednesday morning. 

"There have been multiple disciplinary incidents, and in spite of numerous conversations, he has continued to offend our audiences," Goldstein wrote.

"As a result, we have ended our relationship with him and he is no longer with the company, effective immediately."

The decision was made yesterday. Wheeler has not responded to multiple requests for comment. 

Wheeler made the comments during a conversation on the program about Scarlett Johansson withdrawing from the upcoming film Rub and Tug. The American actor was facing backlash after she was cast to play a trans man.

In the conversation, Wheeler made a remark comparing transgender people to actors who "pretend to be different things." He reiterated the sentiment in a Facebook Messenger conversation with a woman who reached out to him regarding the commentary. The woman shared images of their conversation online.

The images show these words from Wheeler: "If someone is born human. And they pretend to be a dog. It is not right to agree with them for the sake of their feelings."

The comments follow another incident in 2016, when Wheeler was suspended following his involvement in a pair of YouTube videos that critics called racist and sexist.

Advertisers pull out 

The decision comes in light of a handful of businesses announcing they would be pulling their ads from 92.1 CITI FM in light of Wheeler's comments. 

They include the Gates on Roblin, which wrote on its Facebook page that it was "absolutely disgusted" by the comments. 

Santa Lucia Pizza and Kal Tire also said on social media that they would not be advertising with the station as a result. 

KAL Tire's vice-president of marketing Greg Waring said the company felt compelled to not advertise with CITI after hearing the comments about the trans community, and did not want to be associated with them "in any form whatsoever." 

"We serve a diverse group of customers and we hire diverse team members and we're proud of that in every respect. So we just think our values need to represent that respect for diversity at all levels," Waring said.

'Profound impact' of comments 

Jonathan Niemczak, president of Pride Winnipeg, said people who think Wheeler was simply expressing an opinion need to understand the profound impact such sentiments can have on trans people. 

Many transgender people face oppression everyday, so such comments, especially from a well known media personality, can be extremely alienating and detrimental to their mental health, he said. 

"I'm not talking about they're going to have a bad day or they're going to be pissed off. I'm talking death, I'm talking suicide. That is what those type of comments lead to," he said. 

"And people need to understand, when you make those type of comments, that is where it's no longer an opinion. When you are making those type of comments where you can affect someone's life to the point where they're just likely to end it, you have now entered into the territory of oppressive speech."

Concern over backlash 

He says he thinks Rogers made the right move, but is now worried people in the LGBTQ community may face backlash, particularly against those who spoke out. 

Cynthia Fortlage, a trans woman living in Winnipeg who appeared on CITI FM Tuesday, said she had mixed feelings about Wheeler being fired. 

She said she wanted to educate the former radio host about issues facing trans women rather than punish him. 

"I would rather make an ally than an enemy," she said, adding that she was also worried about potential backlash against people in the trans community. 

"And that's even more dangerous than one could even imagine if you're not living it day to day."