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Marvel and the Power of Role Models

Marvel Comics recently confirmed it will feature a trans superhero character in an upcoming film, according to an article for BBC: "There have been reports since 2019 that Phase 4 of the [Marvel Comic Universe]—the films following the Avengers Infinity saga—would star a trans character. Marvel has also said it will introduce its first deaf superhero in The Eternals and its first Asian-American superhero, in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings."

What, if anything, does this announcement mean for the transgender community?

Last Great Equality Struggle?

Historically, mainstream acceptance of certain minority and historically underrepresented groups has tended to advance at different paces. Consider the different timelines of the equality struggles for women, people of color and the LGTBQ community. While all can be seen as ongoing struggles, their first significant successes started to formulate during different periods. And in many ways, the struggle of the "Ts" in the LGTBQ group still has the farthest to go, particularly in terms of stigmas, lack of understanding and dearth of high-profile role models for the transgender community.

Importance of Role Models

One of the societal benefits of diversity and inclusion is the ability to provide a diverse population with role models they can identify with. Often we think of that in terms of positions of authority, for example: Barrack Obama as a role model for people of color aspiring to become President of the United States; Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a role model for women aspiring to the United States Supreme Court; or people of color and women in general attaining prominent roles as CEOs and other top executives.

How Important Are Superhero Characters Anyway?

The examples of the role models above are all actual roles anyone can aspire to. While there may be very passionate and elaborate arguments from hard-core fans of the genre, none of us can actually become a superhero. So, we go back to our original question: what, if anything, does it matter if Marvel is unveiling a trans superhero?

Well, while children can't grow up to be Superman or Wonder Woman or the Black Panther, diverse superheroes do allow an increasingly diverse group of young people to see a member of whatever group they identify with as a hero. They can see women as the one doing the rescuing instead of the helpless victim needing rescue; they can see a Black character as a wealthy, intelligent hero instead of a villain, thug or gangster. Perhaps the new Marvel movie will give transgender people of all ages an image of a transgender person in a position of confidence, acceptance and power to add to their growing list of transgender role models.

Who are the role models in your organization? What power are they wielding with employees of all different backgrounds?

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