When actor and singer Michaela Jaé Rodriguez landed her big break in 2017, starring as Blanca Evangelista in FX’s “Pose,” it was a rare opportunity for a trans performer to take on a leading role and the type of authentic representation the LGBTQ community continues to fight for in mainstream media.
As the show ended its groundbreaking three-season run in 2021, Rodriguez made history as the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe award and the first to be nominated for an Emmy in a lead category. And the Variety Power of Women honoree hasn’t stopped smashing glass ceilings since.
Previously billed as MJ, the entertainer now goes by her full name, Michaela Jaé. She currently stars opposite Maya Rudolph in the Apple TV+ comedy “Loot,” plus she’s stepping behind the scenes to produce movies and hard at work on her long-awaited debut album. With celebrity came the responsibility to advocate for her fellow trans people, and with each new endeavor, Rodriguez’s platform to speak out has grown larger.
Her voice has been particularly important of late as the LGBTQ community faces an onslaught of anti-queer legislation has been proposed in mostly Republican-led states, from laws restricting drag performances to bills that would outlaw gender-affirming therapies for children under 18.
At the Power of Women luncheon, where she was introduced by Sandra Bernhard, Rodriguez gave an emotional address, drawing awareness to the discrimination against that community.
“We have those who dare to claim that human rights are not universal to those who live in our country. One of the greatest privileges that we can grant ourselves as human beings is the blessing to know who we are innately. This isn’t something that comes with easy. Being a woman comes with a lot. To some, this gift may never come,” she said before thanking the women in her life who have lifted her up, her mother and her aunts. “You continually change my life and y’all were the only people to give me my strengths of womanhood. No one else can take that away from me.”
She noted that last year, the Trevor Project reported that 18% of queer youth ages 13-18 had attempted suicide. “I don’t want to be that disposable. I want to make sure I keep fighting for those youths,” she said. “Eighty percent of the people who are making decisions that greatly affect the lives and the rights of the LGBTQ community never met those people before. They’ve never met them, they don’t even know they exist. They want to extinguish our light.”
Rodriguez challenged everyone in the room to “have a difficult conversation” and discuss LGBTQ rights with others. “Our lives are at stake,” she stated. “I’m not just a box to be checked off… Our lives matter.
In her Variety cover story, Rodriguez also shared an encouraging message to the next generation, especially young trans people.
“Keep doing it with grace. Keep doing it with love. Don’t ever stop your motivation, your momentum on changing the world and changing human’s hearts,” Rodriguez said. “Please don’t be in fear. Be you. Thrive as hard as you can.”
In addition to advocating for human rights, Rodriguez is also eco-conscious, ringing the alarm bells about protecting forests and farmers via her partnership with the Rainforest Alliance. Rodriguez first aligned herself with environmental non-profit in 2019, as unprecedented wildfires destroyed thousands of square miles of the Amazon rainforest.
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