Disney Channel introduced its first trans character this week in the latest episode of Raven’s Home, starring Raven-Symoné.
Raven-Symoné has become something of a queer icon, not only having her own spin-off series from That’s So Raven but also various high-profile stints on US panel talk shows, as well as a regularly occurring character in hit sitcom Black-ish, where she also plays a gay character.
History was made this week however as Disney Channel introduced the network’s first trans character, in episode 15 of the latest season.
Nikki, played by actress Juliana Joel, said in a lengthy Instagram post (below):
“Growing up as a kid in Florida (like many other kids) I dreamt of being on the Disney Channel, specifically on That’s So Raven. It was my favorite show & Raven Baxter was my best friend in my mind. It was my escape from what I was going through internally,” she wrote.
“Coming from a typical Puerto Rican family, I didn’t think being an actor was possible esp for someone like me, 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. It was a moment where it hit me that I not only get to live out my childhood dream on a version of my favorite show…I get to do it as my authentic self and with a character that is openly trans.”
This is a HUGE deal and Disney is (we can only hope) making steps to turn things around after the disastrous handling of Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill earlier this year. However there is still, undoubtedly, a great deal of work still to be done if the corporation wants to win back the trust of many LGBTQ+ folk.
Joel’s post continued:
“But it was really more than just being on the show. With all of the anti-trans hate and narratives in media and society, it was a win. 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. So never tell yourself it can’t happen because it can, in ways you never dreamt possible.”
The writer of the episode, entitled The Fierce Awakens, Nori Reed, also spoke openly about how much this moment meant to her and to society at large. She said:
“I grew up in Christian County, Kentucky, a rural community that wasn’t the most hospitable to me as an Asian and closeted queer kid. Like many kids across America, I loved coming home from school and turning on the Disney Channel, a wonderful escape from the challenging environment that I was living in. 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.”
Raven’s influence is clearly not to be trifled with, see below for the first episode of the spin-off show which has already garnered 80 MILLION views.