Raven’s Home, the spin-off of That’s So Raven, has introduced the first transgender character on a Disney Channel show during its fifth season on Disney+. The character’s name is Nikki and is played by transgender actress and advocate Juliana Joel. Nikki was written by queer and Asian comedian Nori Reed for the fifth season of Raven’s Home and is openly transgender in the show.
“I think I may have created the first ever trans character for the Disney Channel,” Reed wrote in an Instagram post about Raven’s Home episode 517, “The Fierce Awakens.”
Reed went on to describe growing up in a rural community in Kentucky that was predominantly Christian, and the way Disney channel served as an escape – even if it didn’t really depict Reed’s lived experiences on screen. Now, Reed is excited to have the opportunity to put that kind of representation out for today’s kids.
“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,” Reed wrote on Instagram. “And I pray in my heart that they hear the very clear message: You belong in this world and are included.”
Joel also had a childhood attachment to Disney Channel, and That’s So Raven, particular, that followed her to this project. In an Instagram post, she wrote that as a child it was her favorite show and that Raven Baxter was her “best friend” in her mind.
“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,” Joel wrote on Instagram. “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.”
Disney has a fraught relationship with LGBTQ+ representation, but creators like Reed and Thor: Love and Thunder’s Taika Waititi are forcing the company to tell at least some LGBTQ+ stories.