GLAAD's Director of Transgender Representation Alex Schmider is changing the way television and film represent the trans community. Photo: Alex Schmider

The LGBTQ+ Changemakers series features LGBTQ+ people all over the country who are making a difference through visibility and ingenuity.

As director of transgender representation at GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), Alex Schmider is a force for good regarding trans stories on television and film. In addition to his pivotal work at GLAAD, Schmider is an Emmy, Peabody, and Critics Choice Award-nominated film producer. News is Out spoke with Schmider about advocating for positive trans representation and how his work as an advisor has grown into a much larger role as a producer.

News is Out: Were you always interested in the entertainment industry?

Alex Schmider: While I’ve always loved movies, I never quite imagined I’d get to make them. I feel very grateful that my path has opened up opportunities not only to educate people about the reality of gender diversity in the world but also about the way storytelling has and can inform cultural understandings of ourselves and those around us. It was a bit accidental falling into documentary, so am excited to embark on a new filmmaking journey into narrative. 

NIO: As Director of Transgender Representation at GLAAD, what are some of the ways you work within the industry to improve the ways trans and nonbinary characters are presented?

AS: This work is majority focused on educating and providing consultation to creators on how trans and nonbinary people have been portrayed in advertising, television, and film, and guiding creators in the current and future development of characters, storylines, and narrative arcs that are authentic, accurate, and aware of their cultural context. Most of us have ingested media images that have led us to skewed perceptions of who trans and nonbinary people are, including ourselves, so there is a great responsibility and imperative to understand this history and tell stories intentionally with consideration for their impact on audiences. 

NIO: What are some examples of trans characters or storylines that you think are doing a great job with representation right now?

Some of the most standout representation, for me personally, has been Josie Totah’s role on Peacock’s “Saved by the Bell,” as an actor and producer on the series. I’m a sucker for comedy as a genre and SBTB hit all the notes for me in addition to having Lexi, a trans girl character whose identity is much more multidimensional than any one characteristic about her gender. “Veneno” on HBO Max is also exceptional. And, to be honest, some of the most compelling voices are emerging in the short film space including Dana Aliya Levinson, Zen Pace, Brit Fryer, Nava Mau, Emory Chao Johnson to name a few. 

Alex Schmider, Clare Tucker, Michael Barnett at 2022 Creative Arts Emmy Awards. Photo: Alex Schmider

NIO: You were recently Emmy nominated for your work as a producer on “Changing the Game” (Hulu) and have produced other incredible documentaries, including “Stay on Board: The Leo Baker Story” (Netflix), “Disclosure” (Netflix), and “Framing Agnes” (Kino Lorber). How did you go from being an advisor to actually becoming a part of these projects as a producer?

AS: When director Michael Barnett and my now co-producer Clare Tucker of Changing the Game cold called me back in 2016 as I was about to take some time away from GLAAD, they recognized my potential as a producer and the value I could add being a part of the project. This experience revealed what it actually means to produce, which, to me, is such a team sport reliant on recognizing each person’s irreplaceable piece to the puzzle. The producing bug bit me good.

GLAAD has been a master class in engaging openly in difficult and challenging conversations about the merits of representation and not only pointing out problems or from my own personal opinion, but identifying and executing creative solutions that can materialize in compelling and culturally conscious stories. My role there has given me so much in addition to a foundational understanding of how one story does not live on its own but in a collection, as part of a culture, and not disconnected from a past or future. Every day I get to learn from the inimitable Nick Adams, who has been at the organization for nearly 25 years, pushing trans representation forward. His history at GLAAD warrants a documentary in and of itself, though he’d never agree to it because of his humility and dedication to the community. 

Simultaneously, I’ve met close friends and creative collaborators including those I consider to be visionary filmmakers like Sav Rodgers, founder of the Transgender Film Center, whose directorial debut I’m producing called “Chasing Chasing Amy” about the complicated legacy of Kevin Smith’s 1997 Sundance film “Chasing Amy” which saved Sav’s life. 

While at GLAAD I traditionally offer high level guidance on a project. When embedded as a producer, I’m known to be very hands-on and involved in all levels, details, and phases of production. I truly enjoy the process of rolling up my sleeves, championing everyone around me, and striving to share great stories which empower the tellers as much as their audiences. 

This interview says it all. 

NIO: There has been an incredible amount of backlash and anti-trans hate in recent years. How are you seeing the effects of that on the entertainment industry in terms of trans representation?

AS: Given the escalating legislative backlash facing people who do not conform to gender expectations, that puts entertainment in a particularly and profoundly culturally consequential space. Storytelling is one of the most effective and expedient mechanisms to shape society by introducing us to people and characters we might not otherwise be personally familiar with and evoking empathy in the candy wrapper of entertainment. When more Americans believe they’ve seen a ghost than personally met a trans person, that means the stories that are shown and platformed in the world have real-life impact on people’s lives. Thankfully, the entertainment industry seems to be recognizing not only is diverse representation reflective of the world around us but it’s also a risk not to appeal and reflect the increasingly connected communities, consumers and audiences through specific and truly authentically informed stories. 

NIO: What advice would you give to people who want to get involved in creating and producing inclusive projects?

AS: If you really want to create and produce inclusive projects that are authentic, invest in deep collaboration with people of the communities for which the stories you’re telling are at the center AND be intentional about building those teams with people whose life and career experiences align with the project’s objectives. Tokenism helps no one. It’s disappointing to me when someone is chosen solely based on their identity rather than in addition to supplementing their expertise, skillset, and relational synergy. Identifying creators who, even if they may have less experience, share a common vision for the project or have obvious potential if given the opportunity will only enhance the process and final product. This means being truly appreciative of the contributions of each person AND challenging each other, in honest and good faith pursuit, to create the best and most compelling work possible that, to quote Shar Jossell, “take(s) its own cultural weight into account.” 

This interview was conducted via email and edited for clarity and style. 

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