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    Art Imitates Life in the New TV Show Doubt

    LewisGaffneyBy Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis

    As we eagerly anticipate the upcoming premiere of the landmark LGBT history miniseries When We Rise, we were excited to see the premiere of another groundbreaking television series that seeks to educate Americans about the lives of LGBT people: Doubt.  Stuart’s high school classmate, television writer Joan Rater, and her husband Tony Phelan are the creators of Doubt, whose all-star cast includes Laverne Cox, who plays a transgender attorney. In an inspiring personal essay published last week in Entertainment Weekly, Joan reveals that her and Tony’s inspiration for Cox’s character was their own teenage transgender son, Tom—and their collective desire to make the world a better place for transgender people to live.

    As Joan writes in Entertainment Weekly, she and her husband Tony decided that—after first struggling with and then accepting and embracing their son Tom as transgender—they “want[ed] to be ambassadors” to help educate the public about the real lives of transgender people. They fantasized about “invit[ing] people who think being transgender is scary or weird or wrong over to our house to meet our family that includes our transgender son, and in the end, they see that he’s really sweet and not scary.” But since their house couldn’t fit the millions of people they wanted to reach, Joan recounts, “we wrote a TV show instead,” featuring Laverne Cox as a recurring transgender character.

    Joan explains candidly that “when Tommy told us he was transgender, we didn’t know anything about gender identity, so we got really scared. Like panicked and crying.” But Tom provided his parents resources to educate them, and Joan and Tony “let smart people calm us down.” After they calmed down, they realized that Tom “was still the exact same person he was before he told us he was trans, only now he was happier. Once he told us, he felt relieved and was able to be more himself. He became even funnier and nicer. And it was kind of a miracle to our family to see this person that had been sad become happy. We watched this child of ours who had felt so awkward for so long start to feel more comfortable in his own skin.”

    “And then we got to create a trans character as a member of the ensemble of Doubt so that people, who didn’t get to witness the miracle of a person being brave enough to be their authentic self in real life, could see it on TV. They could meet Cameron Wirth, as played by Laverne Cox, and fall in love with her because she’s funny and smart as hell and passionate about her clients and gorgeous and needy and lonely and all the things the rest of us are. And once they get to know her, her being trans won’t be scary or alienating. It’ll feel normal. And if we can do that, if we can broaden the idea of normal even a little bit, it’ll be a good thing. And maybe our show can be part of helping people become less afraid.”

    We’re proud of Joan and her family, and we’re grateful that Joan and Tony are using their voices as television writers and creators to illuminate the lives and voices of transgender people. As When We Rise dramatizes the lives of LGBT activists, Joan and Tony have become activists themselves by taking their personal story and that of their son and bringing it to the small screen through the transgender character they created.  With the TV show Doubt, art imitates life in the hope that more people can live authentic and happy lives without having to imitate or pretend anymore.

    John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the nationwide grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.