Pose star Mj Rodriguez broke new ground in Tuesday’s Emmy nominations, becoming the first transgender performer to be nominated for a lead acting role in a primetime series. Rodriguez was nominated for playing Blanca Rodriguez in the third and final season of Pose, which wrapped on FX in early June 2021.
She is just the third transgender actor to receive an Emmy nomination: Laverne Cox scored four supporting actress nominations for Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black between 2014 and 2020, and Rain Valdez earned a nod last year for lead actress in a short-form series for Razor Tongue. Should Rodriguez win, she would be the first transgender person to take home an acting Emmy.
“I can’t even believe it,” a beaming Rodriguez said in an Instagram live reaction to the news, adding that she wants the award to be for “every intersectionality of my community,” including the black, Latinx, and trans communities.
Rodriguez has served as the show’s emotional centre in her role as Blanca since the very first season. “Even from the pilot episode, when Blanca confronts Helena St. Rogers (Charlayne Woodard) with a breathtaking monologue about motherhood and losing one’s sense of self-worth, Rodriguez has demonstrated remarkable skill and emotional depth,” writes them.
Seeing the actress finally get the recognition that she’s due after three seasons of performing alongside fellow trailblazers like Indya Moore, Angelica Ross, and Billy Porter, who won a 2019 Lead Actor Emmy for his portrayal of Pray Tell in Pose is inspiring and moving to say the least.
“Rodriguez’s Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series is a breakthrough for transgender women in Hollywood, and a long-overdue recognition for her groundbreaking performance over the past three seasons of Pose,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis on Twitter.
GLAAD, along with dozens of other LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, had urged the Television Academy, the voting body which awards the Emmys, to recognize Pose’s contributions in a June open letter. In that letter, the groups highlighted the “undeniable emotional and cultural chord” struck by the show “that will not soon be forgotten.”
Rodriguez’s historic nomination marks one step closer to an entertainment landscape that rewards and respects trans artists and the real stories they want to tell, leaving cisgender film executives’ misconceptions and stereotypes behind. The series also earned a nod for best drama and nominations for directing (Steven Canals) and writing (Canals, Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Janet Mock and Our Lady J) on the series finale.
The Emmy Awards 2021 are set to air on 19 September on CBS, with Cedric the Entertainer serving as host.
Months after it was noted that the murder of two black trans women barely received any coverage in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, it has now been revealed that ten trans people have been killed in the US since the beginning of 2021.
Jenna Franks, a 34-year-old white trans person, was found dead in Jacksonville, North Carolina on 24 February, making her (at least) the tenth trans homicide victim so far this year. While various media outlets had originally reported that Franks was the ninth known victim of anti-trans violence in 2021, Human Rights Campaign (HRC) recently clarified that 22-year-old Jasmine Cannady—who was murdered in February alongside their trans brother, 16-year-old Jeffrey “JJ” Bright—was nonbinary.
That makes the siblings, who were reportedly killed by their own mother, the eighth and ninth victims of fatal anti-trans violence this year, although a motive has yet to be established. Franks was described as a “beautiful soul” and “a breath of fresh air” by those who knew her. “Personally, my thought process was that this has to be something nefarious. Jenna had a lot of street smarts,” shared Dennis Biancuzzo, director of the Onslow County LGBTQ+ Community Center, to WITN.
After news outlets and police faced criticism for allegedly deadnaming and misgendering Franks, her sister Amber Franks claimed in a Facebook post that her late sibling identified as genderfluid and often used different names and pronouns depending on the day.
According to them., Biancuzzo is currently working with the family to establish the Jenna Franks Interim Housing Project in the deceased’s honour. “The project aims to provide transitional housing for up to six adults for up to 18 months, during which they will be assisted in finding permanent housing and employment. The organization hopes to assist individuals with other services like mental health counseling, sexual assault advocacy, and treatment for substance abuse issues.”
As a response, LGBTQ+ advocacy groups from around the US have joined the local community in celebrating Franks’ life. Kendra R. Johnson, executive director of Equality North Carolina, stated that Franks’ death “is another heartbreaking example of the injustices transgender people face all across the South every single day.”
LGBTQ+ people are included in statewide anti-discrimination laws in North Carolina, which fuel “a climate of violence… against the most vulnerable members of our communities,” added Johnson. 27 other states also lack comprehensive protections in statewide civil rights legislation.
Until recently, House Bill 142 prevented local governments from regulating both private employment practices and public accommodations, making expanding anti-discrimination laws in North Carolina impossible. According to them., “that legislation was drafted as an alleged ‘compromise’ on HB 2, the controversial state house bill that banned trans people from using the restroom that most closely corresponds with their gender identity in areas like restaurants and bars.”
However, since HB 142 expired in December 2020, LGBTQ+ activists have been pushing to reestablish civil rights protections in North Carolina. In three months, cities like Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and Hillsborough have already reinstated pro-LGBTQ+ ordinances previously struck down by HB 124.
Of course, more work needs to be done around the country to ensure the safety and protection of vulnerable members of the community. While 2020 saw the largest number of trans homicides on record, the number of lives lost in 2021 is already three times higher than it was at the same point last year.
This should come as a sad yet urgent reminder that the fight against transphobia doesn’t stop at the Black Lives Matter movement, neither should it stop come the beginning of a new year.