Raven-Symon’e’s sitcom debuts Disney Channel’s first ever transgender character
Raven-Symon’e’s Disney Channel sitcom recently debuted what is believed to be the network’s first ever transgender character. The 15th episode of the fifth season of Raven’s Home premiered July 8, featuring trans actress Juliana Joel as an influencer named Nikki.
Both Joel and Nori Reed, who wrote the episode, shared emotional Instagram posts about the milestone.
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“I think I may have created the first ever trans character for the Disney Channel!” Reed wrote alongside a screenshot of the episode‘s script, photos from set, and a video of herself and friends watching one of Joel’s scenes with Simone.
“Growing up as a young queer person, I never got to see [my] own experiences and identity reflected back to me on the TV screen. This unfortunately provided a very clear message: This world isn’t for you,” Reed continued. “I cannot fully articulate what it means to me personally that now a young queer person in rural America can pop on the Disney Channel and witness a funny, nuanced trans character that they can relate to. And I pray in my heart that they hear the very clear message: You belong in this world and are included.”
Likewise, Joel wrote about growing up with and dreaming of being on the Disney Channel, specifically Raven-Symon’e’s hit early 2000s show That’s So Raven.
“Coming from a typical Puerto Rican family, I didn’t think being an actor was possible esp for someone like me,” she wrote. “I thought you had to be born into that world. Fast forward to becoming an actor I then told myself I wasn’t young enough to be on Disney anymore & even if that wasn’t the case I’m TRANS! I’d never seen an out trans actor or character on the Disney Channel. EVER. Needless to say I cried in my dressing room after walking onto that set the first time.”
“With all of the anti-trans hate and narratives in media and society, it was a win,” Joel continued. “I claimed a dream and space for myself while so much of the world is trying to erase me & my community. And now I get to be that person I wish I had to watch on TV growing up.”
Disney has found itself unexpectedly embroiled in LGBTQ politics recently. The entertainment giant remained largely silent as Florida‘s infamous Parental Rights in Education bill, commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, made its way through the state’s legislature. Reed herself participated in a March employee walk-out protesting the company’s silence on the bill.
Disney only denounced the “Don’t Say Gay” bill after it was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in March. Then in April, campaign filings showed that the company had donated $190,000 to get Republicans elected in Florida as GOP lawmakers were working to pass the law, which bans teaching LGBTQ topics in grades Kindergarten through third. Disney later said that it would stop making campaign contributions in Florida, leading the state legislature to revoke Disney’s decades-old special zoning agreement.