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Times are a-changin’ down in Nashville.
That new cast member represents one huge sea change: Out transgender actress Jen Richards (Her Story, I Am Cait) will star in a recurring role as physical therapist Allyson Del Lago. The casting marks the first time an out transgender actor has appeared on CMT, as well as the first time a transgender character has been written for the network.
The Mississippi-born Richards announced her new gig on Tuesday, one day after teasing on Twitter that she was “muzzled” and wanted to share a big announcement but had to wait.
Fans of the show began guessing as to which actors Richards would work with directly in scenes. Some surmised that Richards’s character would provide physical therapy to Juliette (Hayden Panettiere), who was seen disappearing into a plane crash at the end of season 4 and is rumored to be the central figure of the season 5 story arc.
Richards has quickly become one of the most promising members of what could be called a new transgender Brat Pack in Hollywood—where she frequently collaborates with out trans stars like Transparent’s Silas Howard and Zachary Drucker, I Am Cait‘s Caitlyn Jenner and Candis Cayne, Her Story‘s Angelica Ross and Sydney Freeland, Sense8‘s Jamie Clayton, and Orange Is The New Black’s Laverne Cox. Notably, the majority of robust roles for transgender actors have been available on streaming content rather than traditional broadcast networks.
In recent weeks, Richards made headlines for being the co-creator and star of one of the first independent YouTube series to ever be nominated for an Emmy. Her Story didn’t win an Emmy in 2016, but the fact that the extremely low-budget, Indiegogo-funded series was competing against four major network shows was a stunning coup in itself.
The newest Nashville cast member also made headlines after transgender advocates criticized the new film Anything, in which a cisgender male actor (Matt Bomer) was cast to play a transgender woman. Richards had auditioned for a smaller part in the film and revealed via Twitter that she’d tried to discuss the problem of casting men as trans women with the producers—to no avail.
CMT also revealed on Tuesday that Richards will appear in the new CBS drama Doubt, which also stars Laverne Cox.
The new season of Nashville starts Jan. 5.
Mary Emily O'Hara is an LGBTQ reporter. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, NBC Out, Daily Dot, Broadly, Vice, the Daily Beast, the Advocate, Huffington Post, DNAinfo, Al Jazeera, and Portland's Pulitzer Prize-winning newsweekly Willamette Week, among other outlets.