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HOUDINI Magazine

Erik Houdini

Bethesda's Betrayal - A Transgender Employee Exposes Discrimination

Every fan and employee carries a dream, a hopeful aspiration tethered to a cherished emblem. For many, that emblem has been Bethesda, the titan of the video game industry, revered for its sprawling and detailed universes in franchises like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls. It's the dream of contributing to these vast narratives, collaborating with creative and diverse teams that ignite the imagination. As a queer creative, I too was seduced by this dream, finding the idea of working amidst Bethesda's allegedly diverse and inclusive ensemble of creators deeply appealing.

However, when the veil is lifted and the stark truth is revealed, these dreams can rapidly descend into nightmares. This became the tragic reality for Leona, a transgender woman and a former Bethesda employee, who emerged as yet another victim in the ongoing struggle for inclusivity in the gaming industry. This egregious instance of discrimination, recently exposed through a Reddit post and a YouTube video, necessitates a serious reassessment of the studio's internal practices and attitudes.

In a four-hour-long video that's as difficult to watch as it is necessary, Leona narrates her ordeal at Zenimax, Bethesda’s parent company, where she worked on The Elder Scrolls Online from 2018 to 2022. Having meticulously documented her experiences, Leona's evidence—screenshots, audio clips, messages—paints an excruciating picture of her mistreatment.

Her journey with Bethesda reached a dismal end when the company's HR department exploited her upcoming gender-affirming surgeries as leverage to pressure her into resigning. The reward for her silence? A promise to cover her COBRA premiums, but only if she relinquished the company of any responsibility through a resignation agreement. You can watch this exchange unfold at 03:50:24 in Leona’s video. This kind of retaliatory behavior, spurred by Leona raising concerns about her manager’s discriminatory behavior, is chillingly unjust. Furthermore, it's a stark reminder that companies have no place dealing out healthcare. It is a harsh reminder that we must continue to pushback against these abusers, and continue the fight for medicare for all.

Yet, what is perhaps even more concerning is the blithe ignorance displayed by the Head of HR. In a conversation timestamped at 03:26:03, this executive dismissively asks Leona, "I don't understand, a fear of being outed to the public? Aren't you already out?" as if public outing isn't a deeply personal and potentially dangerous situation for a transgender person. This is no minor faux pas—it's a glaring indication of how little the company understands the LGBTQ+ community it claims to support. Infact, it's down right hostile, someone telling their company they want to change names because they are trans is not the same as telling everyone in the company they are a transperson, that to me, feels like intentional malice, especially in a state like Texas.

The original Reddit post not only underlines the hypocrisy of Bethesda's pride month celebrations but also magnifies the chilling reality of its corporate culture. Their public-facing image is a stark contrast to the truth. Their claims of diversity and inclusivity have proven to be no more than hollow words.

This incident, unfortunately, doesn't stand alone. Bethesda recently found itself under the scrutiny of a Bloomberg exposé, which spotlighted the company's ongoing struggle to retain talent due to subpar wages and an environment that's far from welcoming, particularly for queer individuals in Texas. Upon discovering this, I, as a queer Texan myself, have certainly lost any aspirations to be part of Bethesda's workforce. The narratives being woven by these trends, underscored by Leona's harrowing experience, paint a stark portrait: Bethesda is yet another monolithic corporation that exploits its employees while banking on the plight of marginalized communities for optics.

The sting of this revelation is profound and disappointing. Being a creative enthusiast and an admirer of Bethesda's titles, I had once dreamed of being a part of their seemingly diverse and inclusive team. That dream is no longer— it's become painfully evident that the company's vaunted diversity and inclusivity are facades.

A heartfelt thank you to Leona, for your courage and your invaluable contributions, despite confronting such blatant hostility. It's dedicated individuals like you, not the disconnected CEOs or indifferent HR heads, who breathe life and depth into the gaming worlds we cherish so much.

Your distressing experience highlights, more than ever, the dire need for unionization within the gaming industry. Just a few weeks ago, Sega of America marked a crucial milestone by becoming the first gaming company in America to unionize. This is a significant step forward, but we need more. This is not the time for complacency. The need for fair labor practices, transparent company policies, and protected workers' rights is alarmingly crucial.

Moreover, it brings to light the urgency to uncouple healthcare from our employers. Our health should not be a bargaining chip in the hands of corporations, nor should it be a cudgel for them to wield against their employees. When an employer holds the power to deny access to necessary medical care or procedures, or use upcoming surgeries as leverage to force resignations, as was the case for Leona, it's a gross misuse of authority. We must strive for a system where our health is not held hostage by our employment status. We need medicare for all, now.

This disheartening revelation about Bethesda is a call to action. It's past time we held these mega-corporations accountable, past time we demanded better for our fellow workers in the gaming industry and beyond. Today, let's stand in solidarity with Leona and all others facing similar discrimination and hardship. They, and we, deserve so much better.

Bethesda, the illusion has shattered. We see you now, for what you truly are. And we won't forget.


The original Reddit post