21 transgender and nonbinary celebrities who are changing television

21 transgender and nonbinary celebrities who are changing television
  • More TV shows are featuring transgender and nonbinary actors and characters.

  • Laverne Cox started on "Orange Is the New Black" and has become a superstar and trans activist.

  • Michaela Jaé Rodriguez became the first transgender woman to win a Golden Globe in 2022 for "Pose."

According to GLAAD's 2023-2024 report on LGBTQ+ representation on TV, 5% of characters on TV are transgender (24 out of 468 characters).

While that may not seem like a lot, it's certainly progress. The first time GLAAD did this report, in 2007, there were zero trans characters and only nine gay or lesbian characters. We still have a long way to go, but there has been progress in the last 17 years.

Much of that progress is due to these actors, who have broken barriers and fought for both transgender and cisgender roles on TV.

These are 21 transgender actors who have changed the face of TV as we know it.

Michaela Jaé Rodriguez is known for her work on "Pose" and became the first transgender person to win a Golden Globe in 2022.

MJ Rodriguez appears on "Pose."
Mj Rodriguez.Jordan Strauss/AP

Before landing her role in "Pose," Rodriguez appeared on TV in shows like "Nurse Jackie" and "The Carrie Diaries." But her role as Blanca Rodriguez on "Pose" really catapulted her into the spotlight.

After three seasons, Rodriguez was finally nominated for an Emmy in May 2021 for her role in "Pose," making history. And in January 2022, Rodriguez made history again by becoming the first transgender person to win a Golden Globe.

"This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals," Rodriguez wrote on Instagram. "They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS. To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!"

Rodriguez also appeared in the Golden Globe-winning Netflix musical "Tick, Tick...Boom!" in 2021 and now stars in the Apple TV+ series "Loot" alongside Maya Rudolph, Adam Scott, and Joel Kim Booster.

Josie Totah transitioned after starring in NBC's "Champions" in 2018. Now, she's starring in the Apple TV+ series "The Buccaneers."

josie totah in saved by the bell
Josie Totah in "Saved by the Bell."Isabella Vosmikova/Peacock/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

Prior to transitioning, Totah appeared in several TV shows, including "Jessie," "Glee," and "Liv and Maddie." Right before coming out, she starred as Michael Patel in NBC's "Champions."

In 2018, she announced in Time Magazine that she was transgender and prefers she/her pronouns. She has continued to act, appearing in "The Other Two" and "No Good Nick." In late 2020, Totah became the lead in the "Saved by the Bell" reboot, according to The Hollywood Reporter, which was canceled after two seasons in 2022. Totah was also a producer on the show.

"We wanted to tell a story that normalized being trans in high school," Totah told People in December 2020. "The entire character isn't based on that one part of her. We have normal lives. We do normal things. And there is so much more to us than our gender identities."

Since "Saved by the Bell" ended," Totah has frequently popped up on TV, most recently in a starring role on the Apple TV+ series "The Buccaneers" in 2023.

Hunter Schafer stepped into the limelight with HBO's hit "Euphoria," and is now a movie star.

Hunter Schafer.
Hunter Schafer.Jordan Strauss/ AP

Schafer's only acting credits for a while were her role as Jules on HBO's "Euphoria" and as a voice in the English dub of the 2021 anime film "Belle." But that's all changed recently.

Besides playing Jules, who still seems to be one of the few trans characters on TV who doesn't struggle with her identity (as Variety noted), Schafer has starred in "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes," the anthology film "Kinds of Kindness," and the horror film "Cuckoo."

"There need to be more roles where trans people aren't just dealing with being trans; they're being trans while dealing with other issues," Schafer told Variety in 2019. "We're so much more complex than just one identity."

Zion Moreno starred in the "Gossip Girl" reboot for two seasons from 2021 to 2023.

zion moreno gossip girl
Zion Moreno on June 30, 2021.Dia Dipasupil/WireImage/Getty Images

Moreno made a name for herself as a transgender model and then switched to acting, appearing in Netflix's "Control Z."

In 2020, Deadline announced that Moreno would join the cast of the "Gossip Girl" reboot on Max. In the first season, Moreno's character, Luna, was one of the rich kids with a bad attitude.

"Gossip Girl" executive producer Joshua Safran told Variety in July 2021 that Luna is transgender in the series.

"We decided as writers that this isn't a show about how she became her authentic self. That's just not our story. Luna is Luna to these people, and that's that," Safran said in the interview.

She also appeared in four episodes of the TNT comedy "Claws" from 2021 to 2022 and starred in the Hulu romantic comedy Prom Dates in 2024.

Elliot Page acted in "Umbrella Academy" and "Tales of the City" before coming out as transgender.

elliot page 2021
Elliot Page at the 2021 Met Gala.Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

Getting his start in "Juno" in 2007, which earned him an Oscar nomination, Page has since made a name for himself in Netflix's "Umbrella Academy" as Vanya Hargreeves and "Tales of The City" as Shawna Hawkins.

In 2020, Page came out as transgender.

"I love that I am trans," Page wrote in a statement in 2020. "And I love that I am queer. And the more I hold myself close and fully embrace who I am, the more I dream, the more my heart grows and the more I thrive. To all the trans people who deal with harassment, self-loathing, abuse, and the threat of violence every day: I see you, I love you, and I will do everything I can to change this world for the better."

Variety reported at the time that he would continue his role in "Umbrella Academy." During season three, Page's character also transitioned and now goes by Viktor, making it one of the first shows where an actor's transition will be reflected in their work on-screen.

Laverne Cox got her start on "Orange Is the New Black."

Laverne Cox got her start on "Orange Is the New Black."
Laverne Cox.Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Cox jumped into the spotlight in 2013 when she started playing Sophia Burset on Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black." In the show, she played a transgender inmate in a women's prison.

Cox was nominated for three Emmy awards for her role on the show. In 2014, she was the first openly transgender person nominated for a Primetime Emmy in an acting category.

In 2015, she won a Daytime Emmy for executive producing "Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word," becoming the first openly transgender woman to win the award.

Cox appeared in a few other TV shows, such as "The Mindy Project," "Dear White People," and "Curb Your Enthusiasm." She was also in the Oscar-winning film "Promising Young Woman," and was a main figure in Netflix's documentary "Disclosure."

However, the actor has also become an activist for transgender rights.

"It's amazing that in various parts of the country, young people are still struggling who are LGBTQ+. And I think it's because we still, culturally, have this very rigid idea of what women should be," Cox told Yahoo Life in 2018.

"And because of that, young people are being bullied, particularly LGBTQ+ youth. There's unprecedented visibility for trans folks now, but we're being attacked more than ever before."

Cox was then tapped to replace Giuliana Rancic as E! News' red carpet correspondent, beginning in 2022. She also appeared in Shonda Rhimes' latest Netflix show, "Inventing Anna."

Asia Kate Dillon starred as Taylor Mason in "Billions" through its end in 2023.

Asia Kate Dillon stars as Taylor Mason in "Billions."
Asia Kate Dillon.Bryan Bedder/GettyImages

In 2016, Dillon earned a spot on Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black," playing Brandy Epps, but most people know them as Taylor Mason on Showtime's "Billions." By playing Mason, Dillon became the first nonbinary actor to play a nonbinary character on TV.

Dillon told "Good Morning America" in 2019 that this role helped them better understand their identity.

"In that moment, it crystallized for me that it was going to be OK for me to never change my body if that was my journey and I was still valid as a nonbinary person and a trans person," they said.

Dillon made headlines in 2017 when they spoke about the Emmys' gendered award categories.

"It's not the first time I've thought about this, but it was certainly the first time where I felt like I had a unique opportunity and a platform to engage in the conversation about questions that I had," Dillon told Variety.

In response, the MTV Movie & TV Awards created a gender-neutral acting award category, which Dillon presented that year, as Entertainment Weekly reported.

Most know Alex Blue Davis as the first trans actor on "Grey's Anatomy."

Alex Blue Davis was the first trans actor on "Grey's Anatomy."
Alex Blue Davis.Phil Mccarten/ AP

Davis got his start in TV on shows like "2 Broke Girls" and "NCIS," but he is best known for his role on "Grey's Anatomy." Davis played an intern, Dr. Casey Parker, who is an openly trans man.

Then-showrunner Krista Vernoff told The Hollywood Reporter she rewrote Parker's coming-out plotline several times. Ultimately, the character says, "I'm a proud trans man, Dr. Bailey. I like for people to get to know me before they find out my medical history."

In that same interview, Davis said the line was monumental for him.

"What's cool about the show, the episode and Krista's vision for this character is he's about way more than being trans," Davis said. "I cried at the table read, it was very moving for me. I've been waiting for a moment like this on TV my whole life. I am so honored I got to say that line on TV because it's a long time coming."

Since leaving "Grey's" in 2020, Davis has had voice roles in animated series such as "She-Ra and the Princesses of Power" and "Baymax!"

Dominique Jackson made a name for herself on FX's "Pose."

Dominique Jackson
Dominique Jackson.Richard Shotwell/ AP

Jackson is known for her role as Elektra Abundance on FX's groundbreaking show "Pose," which ended in 2021.

In season one, her character decides to get gender-affirming surgery — commonly referred to as "bottom surgery" — and loses some friends and her boyfriend over the decision.

"Throughout the years, many people have had this misconception about being transgender and they have always come from their comfortability," Jackson told Metro in 2019.

"But we also have to realize that having gender-affirming surgeries, it is a personal journey. Every trans person's journey ends in a certain place. My version of complete was bottom surgery. A lot of people just thought we did this surgery because it's always about 'getting a man' or something like that."

She was last seen on-screen in 2022 in an episode of "American Horror Stories."

Outside acting, Jackson has also written a book titled "The Transexual from Tribago," which chronicles her personal journey.

Indya Moore is another transgender star who appeared in "Pose."

Indya Moore.
Indya Moore.Jordan Strauss/ AP

Moore started as a model, but they really made a name for themselves when they were cast as Angel on FX's "Pose." As a trans and nonbinary person, they became a mainstream success, booking even more modeling gigs and eventually becoming Elle's first trans cover model, as reported by Out Magazine in 2019.

In that cover story, Moore said activism is one of the most important parts of their life.

"When I'm around people having conversations about their day, I'm looking at them, like, 'What could they possibly be talking about? How are we not talking about deconstructing white supremacy right now? How are we not trying to save trans people?'" Moore told Elle. "I don't know who I am outside of someone who's just trying to be free and find safety for myself and for others."

Since "Pose" ended, Moore has moved on to movies, appearing in "Escape Room: Tournament of Champions," "Nimona," "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom," and, this year, "Ponyboi."

Jamie Clayton is known for her role in Netflix's "Sense 8."

Jamie Clayton.
Jamie Clayton.Paul A. Hebert/ AP

Clayton is known for her role as Nomi Marks on Netflix's "Sense 8." In the series, Clayton plays a trans hacker who develops the ability to see into the minds of eight other people around the world.

When the show ended in 2018, Clayton went on to appear in multiple other TV series, including "Designated Survivor," "Roswell, New Mexico," and "The L Word: Generation Q."

In 2022, she took on the iconic role of Pinhead in the Hulu reboot of "Hellraiser."

Outside media, Clayton has become an activist for trans rights, especially trans visibility in Hollywood.

"Actors who are trans never even get to audition for anything other than roles of trans characters," she posted in 2018. "That's the real issue. We can't even get in the room. Cast actors who are trans as non-trans characters. I dare you."

Tom Phelan had a groundbreaking role on "The Fosters."

the fosters tom phelan
Phelan in "The Fosters" with co-star Maia Mitchell.Disney–ABC Domestic Television

Phelan has a short list of acting credits, but his role in "The Fosters" was revolutionary. He became one of the first trans actors to play a young trans character. In the show, his character, Cole, tackles taking hormones and experiencing misgendering.

In 2015, he told The Hollywood Reporter that while his character is great for trans visibility, he worried that it wouldn't make that big of an impact.

"We've come a long way with being in the public eye, but in terms of lessening violence, there hasn't been a lot of change," he said. "Media representation is great, but it's not going to promote visible, genuine change."

"Media representation is for the community and for young trans kids and it's for people looking to see themselves. I don't think it's for the rest of the world. Its primary function is to serve as a looking glass so that people who feel lost and confused can look and see themselves," Phelan added.

Elliot Fletcher has had recurring roles on some of the biggest TV shows, including "Shameless," "The Fosters," and "Y: The Last Man."

Elliot Fletcher.
Elliot Fletcher.Jordan Strauss/ AP

In 2016, Fletcher took on his first trans role on MTV's "Faking It." Since then, he has continued playing trans characters, like Trevor on Showtime's "Shameless" and Aaron Baker on "The Fosters."

Most recently, he had a starring role in "Y: The Last Man" as the character Sam. The show explores what would happen if every mammal with a Y chromosome suddenly dropped dead. In the graphic novel the show is based on, there's no real mention of trans men who, of course, would not be affected by the virus.

But in the Hulu adaptation, one of the main characters is Sam, a trans man, whose character brought a sense of modernity to the source material. The show was canceled in 2021 after one season.

"We change it up a lot," Fletcher told Men's Health in November 2021. "The show reverses traditional gender roles, or what are thought to be traditional gender roles, because there are no cis men in this world, and cisgender is so often the assumed default."

"There's no one version of a trans guy in Hollywood anymore," Fletcher told The New York Times in 2020.

Before Yasmin Finney appeared on shows like "Doctor Who" and "Heartstopper," she was famous on TikTok for documenting her experience as a Black trans teenager.

Yasmin Finney attends a preview screening of "The Color Purple" at Warner House on January 10, 2024
Yasmin Finney.Dave Benett/Getty Images for Warner Bros.

Finney became the first trans character in "Doctor Who's" 60-year history when she played Rose Noble in 2023. She also played Elle on "Heartstopper," a series known for its LGBTQ+ cast.

"I want people to laugh, I want people to smile, I want people to cry. And also I just want to be good representation for people that haven't had it," Finney told the BBC in 2023.

Jen Richards produced and starred in the web series "Her Story."

Jen Richards.
Jen Richards.Demis Maryannakis/ AP

Richards is best known for her work on the web series "Her Story," which she co-produced. She also played Violet in the show, which was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in 2016.

Since then, Richards has appeared in "Nashville," "Better Things," Tales of the City," "Blindspot," "Mrs. Fletcher," "Clarice," and "Mayfair Witches."

Outside of acting, Richards also promotes trans visibility and fights for trans rights. She founded the Trans 100, which honors and recognizes people and organizations that are doing good within the trans community.

She has also been vocal about the importance of casting trans people in trans roles.

"If they cast a cis woman, they're ultimately saying a trans woman is a type of woman," Richards told Variety. "They cast a cis man, they're saying that, at the end of the day, a trans woman is a kind of man. Right from the moment you cast a man as a trans woman, you've already proven that you are out of step."

Alexandra Billings is most recognizable for her role in "Transparent."

Alexandra Billings.
Alexandra Billings.Chris Pizzello/ AP

According to Indiewire, Billings became the first transgender person to play a transgender character on TV when she played Donna in 2005's "Romy and Michele: In the Beginning." Since then, she has appeared as a trans character in "How to Get Away with Murder," "Grey's Anatomy," "ER," "Eli Stone," and "Goliath."

But the actress is best known for her role as Davina on Amazon's "Transparent."

She has also been outspoken about cis-gendered people taking trans roles. In an op-ed for HuffPost, she explained her frustrations with Jared Leto's Oscar-winning performance in "Dallas Buyers Club," in which he played a trans woman. She especially found it frustrating that the actor didn't acknowledge the trans community in his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes.

"He spoke about shaving his legs, he spoke about his backside in his bikini, and he spoke about a Brazilian wax he never got because it seemed to be too much trouble," Billings wrote in 2016.

"What he didn't speak about was the transgender woman he played, or the millions of other transgender people in the audience, or the hundreds of millions of people around the world who are living with and dying from the AIDS virus," she continued.

Most recently, Billings was on the Prime Video series "The Peripheral."

Trace Lysette has appeared in "Transparent" and the movie "Hustlers."

Trace Lysette.
Trace Lysette.Chris Pizzello/ AP

Lysette began her acting career in 2014, playing Shea on Amazon's "Transparent." Her character is an openly trans woman who is a yoga instructor and educator.

Lysette made headlines in 2017 when she came forward and accused her "Transparent" co-star, Jeffrey Tambor, of inappropriate sexual behavior while on set, reported Newsweek.

"Despite multiple uncomfortable experiences with Jeffrey, it has been an incredible, career-solidifying honor to bring life to my character, Shea, on Amazon's 'Transparent,'" the actor wrote in a statement at the time. "Working on the award-winning series as a low-income trans woman with active roots in New York's ball culture is a rare opportunity most of my sisters are not given."

Tambor, who later left the show, responded to the accusations by saying he accepted he was not a perfect coworker but that he had "never been a predator — ever," according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Outside of "Transparent," Lysette has appeared on FX's "Pose" and "Hustlers." More recently, she hosted a six-part podcast series for Wondery called "Harsh Reality," which is about a controversial British reality TV show that starred a transgender woman.

In 2023, Lysette appeared in an episode of the "Quantum Leap" reboot.

Brian Michael Smith starred as a trans man in OWN's "Queen Sugar" and was the first trans man to be named on People's Sexiest Men Alive list.

Brian Micahel Smith.
Brian Michael Smith.Phil Mccarten/ AP

Smith has been earning acting credits since 2011, appearing in TV shows like "Gossip Girl," "Girls," "Chicago P.D.," "Blue Bloods," and "After." But in all of these shows, he played a cis straight man. It wasn't until 2017, however, that Smith came out as trans through his character on OWN's drama series "Queen Sugar."

In 2020, Smith began starring in "9-1-1: Lone Star" on Fox, making him the first Black trans male series regular on network TV, according to Out Magazine. He also recurs on "The L Word: Generation Q" as a trans character.

"There weren't a lot of trans male roles when I started out," Smith told NBC News in 2017. "I was really trying to be cautious about [choosing a trans role] because it was something I was interested in, but I wanted to make sure that it resonated with me, and it would have a positive impact on trans and non-trans people alike."

In November 2021, People Magazine included Smith in their Sexiest Men Alive list. He was the first trans man to be named on the annual list.

"I've been called many things, this is a first," Smith wrote on his Instagram after the announcement. "Incredibly honored to be included in this list with so many actors I admire. Big love to @people for the historic shout-out."

Nicole Maines portrayed the first trans superhero on CW's "Supergirl."

Nicole Maines.
Nicole Maines.Richard Shotwell/ AP

Before acting, Maines was the subject of several documentaries that focused on the trans experience. In 2016, she was profiled in HBO's "The Trans List," and in 2018, she was profiled again in "Not Your Skin."

She then moved into acting, becoming the first trans superhero on TV in 2018. Maines played a reporter named Nia Nal on CW's "Supergirl." The character eventually turned into the superhero Dreamer. Maines remained on the show until its end in 2021.

"I've been doing a lot of auditions lately because a lot of different shows have been really eager to tell the story of transgender people," Maines said at Comic-Con in 2018. "It seems only fitting that we have a trans superhero for trans kids to look up to. I wish there was a trans superhero when I was little."

In 2023, Maines joined the cast of the hit Showtime series "Yellowjackets."

Leo Sheng was the only trans series regular on "The L Word: Generation Q."

leo sheng
Sheng.Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Sheng first gained media attention through his Instagram, as he documented his transition on the app.

"Once I was able to start my medical transition, I started to document that on Instagram because I found a community there of trans guys sharing their journeys — whether that's social, medical, different variations of journeys," Sheng told The New York Times in 2020. "That felt really empowering to see."

He was then connected to Hollywood through a campaign he did with Miley Cyrus' charity Happy Hippie Foundation.

From 2019 to 2023, Sheng starred as Micah, an adjunct professor and therapist on "The L Word: Generation Q," a continuation of the groundbreaking series "The L Word."

"There's a lot that has become mainstream in the last 10 years," he told The Times. "These are conversations that not only queer and trans people are having, but cis folks are having and thinking about now. And I think that's reflected in our sequel."

Patti Harrison is one of the funniest people on TV.

Patti Harrison attends the 2023 Sundance Film Festival "Theater Camp" Premiere at Eccles Center Theatre on January 21, 2023
Patti Harrison in 2023.Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Harrison began her TV career by appearing in small roles on some of the most beloved comedies of the 2010s: "Broad City," "Search Party," High Maintenance," "BoJack Horseman," "Shrill," and most famously, "I Think You Should Leave," which she is also a writer for.

Harrison has also made the move to film, appearing in projects like "Together Together," "Raya and the Last Dragon," "The Lost City," and "Theater Camp."

As one of the most well-known trans comedians, Harrison knows that tokenization is still a problem. "I think in a lot of ways I've become visible because of the social-media-liberal, self-back-patting wave that has felt pretty condescending and minimizing of the work that I want to do," she told The New Yorker in 2022.

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