Welcome to the seventh article in our 2019 Pride Month Series! Each day in the month of June, we will be highlighting a different member of the LGBTQ+ community who we think is a great example of representation and dynamic characterization. We will focus on fictional characters, celebrities, and activists alike — the positive voices within the LGBTQ+ community and in mainstream media.
Next in our series to be highlighted is activist, teacher, and actress Alexandra Billings.
Alexandra has spent her life entertaining, creating art, teaching new generations of actors, and fighting for the rights of others to live their truth. She grew up in Los Angeles and learned to fall in love with the theater from her father, who was a music teacher and director for companies such as the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera. She helped her father by working backstage, running into the likes of Yul Brenner and Carol Burnett.
As she got older, she performed in such productions as Jesus Christ Superstar and eventually focused her talent into teaching others. She has taught at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater, the University of Chicago, and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Today, she is an Assistant Professor of Acting at the University of Southern California.
Even with all of her other professional responsibilities, Alexandra’s television career hasn’t slowed down. She has had guest roles on ER, Grey’s Anatomy, Eli Stone, and How To Get Away With Murder. And she is currently working on the final season of Amazon’s Transparent, where she plays Davina, a transgender woman who helps the main character of the series navigate her way through her own gender transition.
She is a trendsetter who has broken new ground on television, as the first openly transgender actress to portray a transgender character, on Romy and Michele: In The Beginning. She is a Grammy nominee for her album Being Alive. She toured the country for six years in her off-Broadway one-woman show Before I Disappear. And her record of activism is long: for three decades, Alexandra has served as an AIDS and LGBTQ activist, receiving the Human Rights Campaign Visibility Award in 2016.
Earlier this year, USC launched the financial-needs-based Alexandra Billings Scholarship to benefit LGBTQ+ applicants to its School of Dramatic Arts. To celebrate the first-of-its-kind financial grant, the university held a special cabaret performance of I’m Still Queer: A Trans American Cabaret last month. Alexandra was understandably overcome with emotion and gratitude about the scholarship’s creation:
As a 56-year-old mixed race trans woman living with AIDS since the mid-1980s and having survived on the streets of Chicago as a sex worker, a heroin addict, and being homeless for almost a year and a half, this sits in a place in my spirit that is truly humbling.
Alexandra has worked for years to improve the lives of others. But she also does something else that is noteworthy and very important: she challenges all of us to join her in her fight. She believes that every one of us can make a significant positive impact in the life of another. We are all humanitarians at heart, Alexandra says, and we have a responsibility to tell our stories of truth and of compassion.
In her performance at the 27th Annual Ovation Awards, Alexandra reminds us that it’s easy to talk about changing the world when we’re surrounded by those who agree with us. But what we all must do, she insists, is speak our truth to those who do not agree with us, if we really are to makes things better for all of us.
Stay tuned for our next installment in our 2019 Pride Month Series tomorrow, and check out the rest of the articles in the series here.