Quantum Leap Writer Says Trans Episode Counters Anti-LGBT Messaging With 'Care Bear Stare of Joy'

Raymond Lee and Josielyn Aguilera in Quantum Leap

Next week’s episode of Quantum Leap asks one thing: Give a trans girl a shot.

Ben’s latest leap puts him in the body of a basketball coach whose trans daughter Gia (played by Josielyn Aguilera) dreams of playing on the team. It’s up to Ben to convince the coach’s colleagues, fellow parents and even his own family to welcome her to the team or risk losing her for good.

The episode, titled “Let Them Play,” was written and directed by trans activist Shakina Nayfack, who originally pitched it as part of her interview for the Quantum Leap writers’ room. Having previously starred in the NBC sitcom Connecting, co-created by Quantum Leap showrunner Martin Gero, the pair aimed to create a new project led by Nayfack. She then joined the Quantum Leap team to help build the skills she would need to eventually become a showrunner.

Shakina Nayfack in Quantum LeapNayfack also appears in the episode as Dottie, a quirky character with game-changing information for the headquarters crew. When the episode’s original director had to drop out unexpectedly, Nayfack jumped on the opportunity.

“That night, I wrote to all the executives, and I was like, ‘This episode is about giving the trans person a shot, so give me my shot. I’m ready,” she shares. “I’ve done 30 episodes of television as an actor, I wrote the episode, no one understands these characters more than me, I’ve trained as a director in the theater — put me in, coach.” Nayfack received the call the next day that she was going to direct.

Advocating for herself is nothing new for the multi-hyphenate, who says, “You have to because no one else will.”

“My whole career has been about asking for that one more thing that makes me uncomfortable, but I feel like I deserve because I’ve worked hard,” she notes. “I used to have a sticky note on my computer that said, ‘Every day, ask one person for help who scares the s—t out of you.’”

“Let Them Play,” airing this Monday at 10/9c on NBC, couldn’t be more relevant as legislators across the country are advancing laws targeting the LGBT+ community. “I just wanted to counter all the negative political messaging with a Care Bear Stare of joy: trans joy, trans liberation, trans community,” Nayfack says. “I wanted to be sure that this episode didn’t feel like a TED Talk or an after school special, and actually feel like something people would want to watch and walk away from feeling more connected to an understanding of trans experience.”

Mason Alexander Park in Quantum LeapThe episode also puts the spotlight on Ian (played by Mason Alexander Park, who is trans and non-binary). “We’re going to learn a lot more about Ian’s backstory in this episode,” Nayfack previews. “I’m just so glad that I got to play a small part in the mythology of our Quantum Leap headquarters, and to help bring our series regular trans actor more actively into the story of Quantum Leap.”

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