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  • If celebrities like Top Chef stars want to help Texas women, then leave the state – mySanAntonio.com

 October 4

by Carolina

Thousands of protestors descended on Texas’ biggest cities this weekend in protest of the state’s dramatically restrictive new abortion law known as Senate Bill 8. The legislation effectively outlaws abortions after six weeks, before many women even know their pregnant, but chances are if you’re reading this story, you already know that. 

Along with the protestors, a number of celebrities spoke out against the restrictive measures, including Billie Eilish, who was in Austin performing at Austin City Limits Music Festival, and Top Chef stars Padma Lakshmi and Gail Simmons, who led a march to Houston City Hall in protest of the law. 

The stars, who are in H-town filming the latest season of the award-winning Bravo show, also used the march to call out Gov. Greg Abbott, who has championed the law as a benefit to Texas women (while being a benefit for his 2022 reelection campaign). Standing on the steps of City Hall in downtown Houston, Lakshmi shared her own deeply personal stories of abortion and sexual assault, as was reported by Chron’s Ariana Garcia.

Simmons, however, used her time to address Top Chef‘s decision to continue filming in Texas, despite calls to leave the state. 

“I know that Houston is a deeply diverse and vibrant place,” Simmons said. “I know that my beloved restaurant industry, let alone the women of Houston and all of Texas, need our support now more than ever and that personally choosing to back out of coming here would only serve to hurt the local people and the local economies that I set out in my career to uplift and stand behind.”

What the stars didn’t address, however, is Top Chef‘s own tenuous history uplifting and standing behind women. Earlier this year, Austin chef Gabe Erales won season 18 of the show, becoming the second Austin chef to win it after … Paul Qui, who was later accused of domestic violence. (Kristen Kish relocated after her win, so technically the Capital City is home to three winners.) In December 2020, months before the show aired and he was crowned the winner, Erales had been fired from Comedor, an award-winning, Mexican City-inspired eatery in downtown Austin for “repeated violations of our policies and for behavior in conflict with our values.”

The real reason behind his departure was one of the worst kept secrets in Austin, but (good) media outlets can’t publish rumors, so it wasn’t until July that the story broke: Erales had been fired “repeated violations” of the harassment of a female employee, according to the Austin American-Statesman. The Statesman also dropped the bombshell that Top Chef producers knew that the chef had been fired and let the season air without comment. 

Within hours of the Statesman publishing the story, Lakshmi addressed the incident on Twitter, saying: 

As someone who has been sexually harassed, this topic is a serious one and merits openness.

We filmed Top Chef in October of last year & were not aware of the allegations now coming out about Gabe.

This should be investigated & the network should consider its best action.

— Padma Lakshmi (@PadmaLakshmi) July 2, 2021

In the case of Lakshmi, being the face of a franchise may make you complicit, especially in the court of public opinion, but it doesn’t necessarily give you power to change much. Still, it’s hard to reconcile the show’s checkered past as a platform to “uplift and stand behind” women when only five of the 18 top chefs have been female.

It’s also illustrative of when a women’s constitutional rights are repeatedly under attack, like-minded celebrities often use their platforms to show support, sort of progressive version of “thoughts and prayers.” But where is the actual action? Why isn’t Top Chef moving production out of Houston? Why is Ben Affleck filming in  Central Texas? Why is Billie Eilish threatening not to play ACL Fest from the stage at ACL

Earlier this year, Georgia passed a 98-page voting law so restrictive that mega corporations like Coca-Cola and Delta were forced to publicly comment on it. Major League Baseball moved its All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver in protest. Major Hollywood productions, like Will Smith’s Emancipation, chose to not film in the state, citing the restrictive law. 

Where is that sort of response to Texas? Do people really hate taxes so much they’re willing to send “thoughts and prayers” to Texas women while keeping their productions in the Lone Star State? Or does it boil down to this bill is about women’s rights and therefore unworthy of losing business over? My guess, is sadly, simply: both. 

There is another great irony in this story and that is it’s deeply unfair that a woman is calling out women who are trying to support women. But that’s also a simplistic view. Texas’ (mostly male GOP) politicians don’t care about women, they care about the economy and the faction of voters who vote solely on abortion thus securing the next election cycle. Screaming into the social media echo chamber isn’t going to change the mind of a single-issue voter, so why not use your immense power to focus on what you can change. 

And it can be changed. Money changes everything. Relocating productions like Top Chef hits the state’s pocketbook and prestige, the two things Texas loves the most. Just, enough with the thoughts and prayers. It’s time for action. If you want to help women, then don’t mess with Texas.

Original posted at www.mysanantonio.com

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