After Disney Channel's First Trans Character Appeared In Raven's Home Ep, The Actress And Writer Shared How Important The Breakthrough Is To Them

Juliana Joel as Nikki In Raven's Home
(Image credit: Disney Channel)

Last week, trans actress Juliana Joel made Disney Channel history on Raven's Home by debuting her character Nikki, who is the network’s first trans character ever. It’s a step in the right direction for LGBTQ+ inclusion for Disney and television as a whole. Following Nikki’s debut, both Joel and the episode’s writer took to social media to share the personal reasons why the episode means a lot to them. 

We’ll start with Juliana Joel, who took to Instagram to relate a personal story that she previously shared with Raven-Symoné on the set of Raven’s Home. In her words: 

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. 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.

In the episode that aired this past week, called “The Fierce Awakens,” Joel plays the new assistant to Raven. During her heartfelt social media post, Joel also said she’s particularly proud to be on the show following anti-trans hate that has been prevalent in media and society. Episode writer Nori Reed also shared the personal importance of the show to her, saying this on Instagram

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. 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.

Reed recalled growing up in Christian County, Kentucky, a rural community where the community was not necessarily supportive of an “Asian and closeted queer.” The Raven’s Home writer was a frequent viewer of Disney Channel, but at the time there were no LGBTQ+ people to look up to. With the inclusion of characters like Nikki, both Joel and Reed hope more young people who identify as queer can see themselves now and down the road on television. 

Raven’s Home premiered on Disney Channel back in 2015 and was quickly renewed after a successful debut. The series stars Raven-Symoné as the same character she played in her teens, now a working mother. This season, the series also brought an original alum in T’Keyah Crystal Keymáh as Raven’s mom, Tanya Baxter. 

Trans representation has historically been thin, but Star Trek: Strange New Worlds recently added Jesse James Keitel, and Elliot Page’s Umbrella Academy character is a hit on Netflix. With a character like Nikki, which shows a positive depiction of a trans person seen as normal in the scope of a Disney Channel program, it can help depict a world more realistic to the diversity of our planet and promote more inclusion following many instances of harmful stereotypes in the past. 

Raven’s Home continues this Friday with a new episode. Check out our list of TV premiere dates to stay up to date on what other shows are coming out next. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.