When Orange is the New Black hit big back in 2013, Selenis Levya played a supporting role as one of the many Latinas locked up in the fictional Litchfield Penitentiary. In a recent blog penned by the actress, she calls her character, Gloria Mendoza, “the no-nonsense, badass head of the Latina crew.” She’s not wrong. Gloria is a feisty Dominicana who’s nabbed one of the jail’s most powerful positions; she’s in charge of the kitchen. Two years later, Gloria’s power move turned Leyva into a series regular.
With only a few weeks left before OITNB‘s season 3 premiere, Leyva has taken the opportunity to leverage her newfound fame and steer the national conversation on transgender issues — sparked by Caitlyn Jenner’s big reveal on the cover of Vanity Fair — in a more thoughtful direction.
“My sister is not famous, in fact she is having a hard time finding employment to this date.”
Leyva writes, “My initial feelings and thoughts about Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer and the Vanity Fair cover were pure joy, excitement, progress, possibility and change. Like many, I cried thinking of all the years she was unable to live her real life. I celebrate her courage and yes, I marvel over her beauty.”
But as the actress explains, her initial happiness turned into sadness. She goes on to reveal that her own sister is a trans woman, “Today, however, I woke up with sadness. I questioned this. After all, I was on such an emotional high the night before. You see, I am not only a supporter of the LGBT community, I am a sister to a beautiful and kind young transgender woman. Suddenly, it became clear to me where my sadness was coming from. The reality is that most transgender people continue to struggle with acceptance. Most will not be celebrated and put on magazine covers.”
“She is still struggling to be accepted, and she is still in danger every time she leaves her home.”
“I am NOT by any means taking away from the importance and impact of what is happening in the transgender movement with the courageous stories being shared by Caitlyn and my smart, talented and yes, beautiful costar, Laverne Cox. I am simply sharing my story based on my life with a Latina transgender sister, my family and our continued struggles. My sister is not famous, in fact she is having a hard time finding employment to this date. She is still struggling to be accepted, and she is still in danger every time she leaves her home.”
In a moment when all things transgender seem to be trending, Leyva reminds us that our focus should be on the majority of the trans community — normal people who are struggling for things like jobs and, “decent health care, never mind public acceptance” — not on celebrities.