Disney Channel’s first out trans actor shares message for parents who thinks she’s ‘grooming’ kids

Trans actor Juliana Joel on landing her historic Disney Channel role. (Getty)

Disney Channel actor Juliana Joel made history last year as their first openly trans actor, appearing in hit comedy Raven’s Home.

The 28-year-old Puerto Rican actor joined the That’s So Raven spin-off, which stars lesbian actor Raven Symoné, as unpaid assistant Nikki. Although she was originally only meant to appear in two episodes, she has since become a regular fixture in the show which is now in its sixth season.

However, at a time when anti-trans legislation has increased across the US and Disney has faced its own controversy over Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill, Joel admitted she was amazed when she first heard about the role.

“I got a call from my team that Disney was looking for an out trans actor to play an out trans character and my jaw dropped,” she told Christy Carlson Romano on the podcast Vulnerable.

“[I thought], ‘Excuse me in 2022? Or 10 years down the line?’ Especially because we had just come out of the Disney Don’t Say Gay backlash. So, I wondered: ‘Is this damage control?'”

However, her reservations didn’t stop her going for it – and eventually landing the role. On set, she remembered telling Symoné: “‘You don’t understand what this is like for me to step on this set that is a version of my favourite childhood show and I get to do that authentically as myself, as a positive trans character.”

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She added: “I cried in that dressing room.”

She was quick to condemn the increasingly hostile environment for the LGBTQ+ community in the US, explaining that trans rights are being “stripped away from us” because trans people “hold a mirror to society” which makes them “uncomfortable” and realise “they are failing themselves”.

When news first broke of her casting, she remembered seeing a conservative news headline, which said: Disney’s newest degenerate, Juliana Joel.

“[There were] all these parents saying: ‘Oh, I’m cancelling Disney, they’re trying to groom our kids,'” Joel said. “What do you think I am going to do on the show? Do you think I am going to get up there and teach kids how to inject hormones? No!”

Joel’s journey to accepting her identity as a trans woman was not an easy one, growing up in Florida – notorious for its restrictive laws on LGBTQ+ rights.

She reflected on the hardships growing up in a Catholic military family and, after accidentally coming out [initially as gay and later trans] to her father, she was forced to attend a Christian conversion camp.

Juliana Joel as Nikki in Raven's Home. (Disney)
Juliana Joel as Nikki in Raven’s Home. (Disney)

“They kept singling me out every day and [I had] the Bible engrained into my brain,” she reminisced.

When she eventually moved to LA, she seldom saw positive trans representation on TV. “We didn’t have Laverne [Cox], we didn’t have Pose,” she continued. “The roles we had were corpses on Law & Order SVU, rape victims, a junkie. There were no positive stories about trans women.”

Which is why her role on Raven’s Home has meant so much to her, because she lives a “version of my life I could not have dreamt”.

Although she clarified that she is “not the poster child” for trans people everywhere, she is glad that “some kid now has that [representation] as they are growing up. They don’t have to go without, the way I did.”

Last year, a Raven’s Home staff writer explained how meaningful it was to cast a trans character in the series.

Taking to Instagram, she wrote: “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.”

Joel follows in the footsteps of Josie Totah who made her name on Disney Channel show Jessie, before she came out as a trans woman.

Raven’s Home, seasons one to five, is available to watch on Disney+.

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