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Tom Segura's Netflix Special Sparks Outrage, Bullying in Down Syndrome Community

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Update: The International Down Syndrome Coalition’s statement has been added to this report. 


Comedian Tom Segura has sparked outrage this week for his use of the R-word in his second Netflix special and his suggestion it be replaced with the term, “21st chromosome,” directly mocking people with Down syndrome. As a result, intense online bullying has begun, as well as an outcry for Netflix to cancel the special.

A transcript from Segura’s special, “Disgraceful,” which launched on January 12, shows a segment that has ignited responses from parents of people with Down syndrome, self-advocates and Down syndrome organizations:

You can’t say “retarded” anymore. [audience laughs] It was just here. Don’t you remember? -“Retarded.” That’s how I… -[audience laughs] People get very upset. I don’t really support the arguments against it. When people are like, “You shouldn’t say it.” “Why?” “What if there’s one over there?” And you’re like… [audience laughs] We never said it like that. We were never like, “Look at that guy!” [audience laughs] You didn’t say it like that. You said it to describe an idea, or a situation, you know? If your friend was like, “I’ll pick you up at your house, and then we’ll come back to my place, and later we can go back to your house. And we can get your bags. And then, we’ll come back over here after that.” And your like, “That’s retarded. Why the fuck would we do that?” [audience laughs] But now you can’t say that. Now you’ve gotta be like, “That’s not… smart. Your idea has an extra 21st chromosome, if you ask me.” [audience laughs] It’s not the same.

“Retarded” was once used as a clinical term but has evolved to become synonymous to “stupid,” “ridiculous,” “inadequate,” etc. For years, self-advocates and allies have expressed the word is hurtful, offensive and derogatory toward people in the disability community. The campaign “Spread the Word to End the Word” is an effort to bring awareness to the emotional and physical damage this word brings to disabled people and their loved ones. Put simply, the R-word is hate-speech.

As the leading human rights organization for all individuals with Down syndrome, the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) strongly condemns the use of the R-word. Kayla McKeon, NDSS’ manager of grassroots advocacy, shared an impassioned statement on Friday inviting Segura to meet with her and other members of the Down syndrome community. “If given the opportunity, we know individuals with the extra 21st chromosome will far exceed his expectations,” she said.

Many parents of children with Down syndrome have taken to social media expressing hurt and outrage over Segura’s comments.

"It's one thing to defend the use of the word retarded by saying you're not referring to the most marginalized segment of our population, those with down syndrome. It is quite another to encourage people to actually start using down syndrome it's self as a slur, Tamark people. I get that comics push the boundaries. But it is not funny to make a population that can't speak up for itself out to be the butt of your jokes. Disgusting. It's 2018, and it's time to say 'enough'. And also, you're not funny."

"I enjoy a good comedy act. This is not comedy. This is not funny. Look, I don't like the word retard or retarded. But I'm not the word police. However, he took it way too far when he made a very specific reference to the Down syndrome population as a slur."

One parent asked Netflix to consider taking down the episode. Segura responded on Instagram, writing, “Hey @netflix please don’t take my special down. That’d be so r*tarded.”

Hey @netflix please don't take my special down. That'd be so retarded.

A post shared by Tom Segura (@seguratom) on

It appears his response ignited his followers to then attack parents expressing their hurt and outrage on social media.

"Heads up. his fans found out about you. you better board your facebook windows lmao. storms coming. you better pull up your jeans and get ready for mommy love"

"I make fun of people who can't defend themselves all the time Dad boners , glassin I mean come on you are being retarded"

"Yes, you're allowed to have an opinion, but it's pretty retarded to have an opinion on a comedy special you know nothing about and refuse to watch. It's willful ignorance/being willfully retarded"

"Your opinion is retarded"

Some fans have gone as far as sending parents private messages with vile comments. [Many of these messages were shared with The Mighty, but we are not re-posting them.] Others have instead taken to attacking parent commenters’ children with Down syndrome online. One of Segura’s fans posted on the Instagram of a teen with Down syndrome, “hey I have a downs kid too. Let’s do a play date and you can sit in the corner and drool together.”

Due to the nature of the hateful comments from Segura’s fans, many parents and people in the Down syndrome community have quickly changed their privacy settings in all social media accounts trying to protect their children from these attacks. Some have deleted their original comments to be protected from the abuse.

Segura has also blocked some parents who were defending their children on his Instagram post.

A growing number of people and organizations, including the National Down Syndrome Congress, are demanding Netflix remove the episode.

“The National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC) wants @seguratom and @Netflix to know that disparaging people with Down syndrome or any intellectual disabilities is not OK. Comedians can be funny and respectful at the same time. #Wearenotapunchline.”

The Global Down Syndrome Foundation president and CEO, Michelle Sie Witten, has also written a statement calling on Netflix to edit out anti-disability and anti-Down syndrome rhetoric. In it she wrote, “We also believe there are words that we are free to use, but as a society choose not to use because they are so directly tied to violence against a vulnerable population.”

Shannon French, President of The International Down Syndrome Coalition, the organization with the largest Down syndrome community following, put out a statement asking Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix to remove the comedy special, “The International Down Syndrome Coalition advocates for individuals with Down syndrome from birth and throughout life. We are asking our community to join us in the effort to request that you immediately remove the Netflix Original Comedy Special, Disgraceful, with Tom Segura. In this special, Segura openly degrades and mocks individuals with Down syndrome citing their third copy of the 21st chromosome as a replacement for the word retard. The derogatory language in this special is simple hate speech that sets out to laugh at the expense of a group of people who fight every day to make their place in this world.

The Mighty has reached out to both Netflix and Segura for comment and has not yet heard back.

Cover image via Facebook.

Originally published: January 20, 2018
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