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Isis King captured our hearts when she appeared on America’s Next Top Model as the show’s first-ever transgender contestant. Fifteen years later, she’s graced several magazine covers, strutted the runway of luxury designers, and acted in award-winning shows. ANTM might be her claim to fame, but the LGBTQ+ advocate has created an inspiring lane for herself and is dominating it.
King, 37, is currently on Amazon Prime’s With Love, a romantic comedy in its second season. She is breaking barriers as one of the few trans actresses with leading roles. Making history is in her blood, and she’s doing it with the utmost style and grace.
Trans visibility is important, especially when their lives are under attack. Representation matters, and that’s why voices like the When They See Us actress are essential and must be experienced on the big screen. It’s the history makers and table shakers who will create a safer, more inclusive world for future generations just by living in their truth.
In an exclusive interview, I chat it up with King on the changes she’s experienced in the entertainment industry since ANTM, the global attack on the LGBTQ+ community, and more.
HB: We’re at the 15th anniversary of your season premiere of America’s Next Top Model. You’re the first trans person on screen, giving us that visibility, and you’ve done so much since then. How have you seen the entertainment industry evolve since ANTM as far as your trans experience?
Isis King: When I first came out, there were not many – well, there were no opportunities to be honest. The main difference is more opportunities for the community as a whole. We’re still behind in terms of representation, but back then it was crickets after the show for a long time. So to see so many – well, we’re on a writer’s strike – but to see so many roles come up, I’m currently watching a show on Netflix called Glamorous with a queer character. These are things that never really happened back then. I’ve seen it grow a great deal, but there’s so much more room for representation that needs to happen as well.
HB: What advice would you give young Isis from your America’s Next Top Model days? What would you tell yourself?
Isis King: I would say to enjoy the process more because it was a long one. I had in my head how things would go, and it didn’t happen like that. I still tell myself that now, ‘enjoy the process.’
HB: This year we’ve seen so many anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in states across the country, and they’re tackling education, mental health support, and much more. It’s like the LGBTQ+ community has become public enemy number one, and our rights should not be acknowledged. It’s a massive attack on the community. Why do you think this is happening?
Isis King: I feel like it’s a diversion. We’re the easiest target to pick off and get people against us, and I think it goes back to white supremacy and divide and conquer. And we’re the easiest target at the moment; it’s easy to get people to go against the ones they deem the weakest people as a whole. We’re so strong; we know who we are, and that’s a lot of power. So to try to divide and conquer us. It goes back to white supremacy and trying to hold onto power that is not really for anyone to have.
HB: It’s a huge attack, and it’s putting a lot of people’s lives in jeopardy. Sadly, this is where we are, where existing is not an option. It’s at your own risk. Uganda just passed a bill that condemns homosexuality, and it is punishable by jail time and even death. Then we have the bills in legislation here, and while the consequences aren’t as harsh as death, they’re stripping us from our rights. This isn’t discussed as often as it should. What can we do as a community to band together and figure this out?
Isis King: Oh, that’s a really hard question. I don’t have the answers to that. We have so much division within the community itself, just trying to be more of a unit together and move accordingly, knowing that there’s a bigger picture here. Protecting your siblings is so important. Beyond that, it comes from the allies and people outside the community who also try not to overlook what’s happening with the community and to speak up for us. That’s all I can say because it’s such a hard question that I don’t think one person really can have the answer to.
HB: I think you’re right on target. There are holes that need to be patched up within our community. We’re at odds within ourselves and our community, so it’s difficult to see how we come together and fix this – and honestly, we can’t fix it. It’s a collective thing. We need everyone – all hands on deck.
What kind of advice would you give a young trans person figuring out their experience right now? How would you empower them?
Isis King: I would say to find your community. Find your tribe; people who will protect and uplift you, hear you, and see you. That’s really important. But also to be vigilant; there are a lot of horrible people in the world. Protect yourself along the way and be mindful of that. Also, no one can tell you who you are but you. Continue to listen to that voice within, make good decisions, and find your people along the way.
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