Juliana Joel on Playing Disney Channel’s First Trans Character: “I Claimed a Dream”

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“Raven’s Home,” the Disney Channel spinoff of Raven-Symoné’s beloved “That’s So Raven,” made history when it featured a character named Nikki, the network’s first openly trans character in a live-action show. In the episode “The Fierce Awakens,” which aired on July 8, actor Juliana Joel plays Nikki, Raven Baxter’s assistant.

“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,” Joel wrote in an emotional Instagram post shared on the day the episode aired. “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,” she added. “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.”

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A post shared by JULIANA JOEL ?? (@thejulianajoel)

The writer of the episode, Nori Reed, also celebrated the role in an Instagram post shared on July 12. “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,” 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.”

While Joel plays the first openly trans character in a live-action Disney Channel show, the animated series “The Owl House” featured a nonbinary character named Raine Whispers, voiced by Avi Roque. “Raven’s Home” and “The Owl House” are both streaming on Disney+.

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