TV

Raven’s Home introduces Disney Channel’s first-ever trans character

Maggie Baska July 12, 2022
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Raven's Home character Nikki (Juliana Joel) wears a white dress with a blue damask pattern on it as she speaks to Raven Baxter (Raven-Symoné). Raven is wearing a white button up shirt, glittery small tie and black and silver patterned vest. Her hair is styled up in three bunches running down her head.

Raven's Home writer and comedian Nori Reed says new character Nikki, played by Juliana Joel, is the "first ever trans character" on Disney Channel. (Disney Channel)

Raven’s Home hopes to show queer kids that they “belong in this world” by introducing the Disney Channel’s first ever trans character.

The sitcom – a spin-off of That’s So Raven starring Raven-Symoné – introduced Nikki, played by Juliana Joel, in its most recent episode, “The Fierce Awakens”.

Joel said on Instagram that she was overjoyed to join the season five cast of Raven’s Home as the “first out trans character on Disney Channel”. 

She said she dreamed about being on Disney Channel, “specifically on That’s So Raven”, when she was growing up in Florida.

“It was my escape from what I was going through internally,” Joel wrote. “Coming from a typical Puerto Rican family, I didn’t think being an actor was possible [especially] for someone like me, I thought you had to be born into that world.”

Joel added: “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.”

Joel recalled crying in her dressing room after walking onto the Raven’s Home set for the first time, saying it was the moment where it “hit” her that she would realising her “childhood dream”,

She added it was particularly amazing that she would be able to do so as her “authentic self” and “with a character that is openly trans”.

“But it was really more than just being on the show,” Joel said. “With all of the anti-trans hate and narratives in media and society, it was a win.”

She 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. So never tell yourself it can’t happen because it can, in ways you never dreamt possible.”

Staff writer Nori Reed said that scripting Nikki was especially meaningful as she grew up in a “rural community that wasn’t the most hospitable” to her as an “Asian and closeted queer kid”. 

Reed added that she, “like many kids across America”, came home to watch Disney Channel and used it as a “wonderful escape from the challenging environment” she lived in.

“Growing up as a young queer person, I never got to see own experiences and identity reflected back to me on the TV screen,” she wrote. “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.”

 

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A post shared by Nori Reed (@norireed)

Reed thanked Raven’s Home developers Jed Elinoff and Scott Thomas for making it apparent early on to staff writers that they supported any efforts to introduce queer characters into the series.

She also applauded Joel for bringing “Nikki to life” as well as the trans women in her life who ‘lift her up and keep her going’.

Raven’s Home follows iconic character Raven Baxter as she goes through life as a divorced mum living with her childhood best friend, Chelsea (Anneliese van der Pol, also returning from That’s So Raven).

In the fifth season, Raven and her son Booker temporarily relocate to her hometown of San Francisco to care for Raven’s father Victor after he suffers a heart attack.

Though Nikki is The Disney Channel’s first trans character, trans actor Josie Totah made her name on the station as a child star, before she came out as a trans woman.

More: disney channel, raven symone

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