IN CONVERSATION WITH LEA (LEE) ROBINSON
Lea (Lee) Robinson is starring in the new Amazon and much anticipated series, ‘A League of Their Own’. Lea, who is a transgender/queer/non-binary/butch, multi-racial identified actor who works in television, film and theater, will be playing a trans-man in the series as well. Lea has their own company, where they consult about LGBTQ topics and educate about equality, equity and inclusion.
Lea, you’ll be starring in Amazon’s highly anticipated series ‘A League of Their Own’, where you’ll be playing a transgender character. The series takes place in the 1940s – 50s, so the conversations about being gay, trans, black, “out and proud” and/or if you don’t feel like you are in the right body was looked down upon and never accepted. How would you describe your role of Bertie in this series?
To me, Bertie is someone who exists in that world you described, both as someone who is guarded and protecting himself and others he loves, and as someone who is proud, courageous, loving and seeking that joy the creators are trying to highlight along with the pain and struggles Bertie experiences.
You grew up in a religious household and struggled at times with your identity. Can you share with us more about this journey?
I grew up in a small town in Kentucky, where being queer or gay wasn’t accepted and/or understood. My community was very religious, but each one shared the same perspective on being queer or gay. That it was wrong and that it didn’t exist in our community. So growing up, I was very aware of how ‘being different’ was going to be a challenge.
I recently had an opportunity to play the role of Rev. Ty Harmon, who was a transgender, non-binary identified Reverand, in Lena Waithe’s series ‘Twenties’. What was so incredible about that role was that it initiated a conversation about sexuality and gender identity and expression within the church and communities of color. The community conversations that followed, about these intersections of identity, were incredible and important. I received one message in particular from someone who was so grateful for the conversation. She felt like she could relate and that she was incredibly happy to see this conversation happening on this platform. To me, that’s the value of visibility, representation and storytelling. And I hope that viewers can both relate and have a new perspective with Bertie’s character.
What was the hardest part about discovering your true identity and facing the world as truly being yourself?
I’d say the fear of unknown and how I’d be received and/or rejected. What would I lose by being open? Who would I lose? How would I know how to navigate the world? Would I be safe? Until I found my tribe. By tribe I mean folks like me, who I could talk to and depend on. Then I became that for others. I’ve been incredibly blessed to have parents and siblings and extended family that love and accept me. I know that’s not always the case and that’s why it’s so special and important.
You were a very successful basketball player who played at Kentucky University as a shooting guard in the NCAA and even tasted what it was like to play in the women’s NCAA tournament as well. How was the experience of playing in women’s league for you?
Being a student athlete was an amazing journey. I learned so much from that experience. The discipline, the drive, the courage, the skills and the value of being in a team and teamwork. That’s one of the reasons why it was so exciting to be part of ‘A League of Their Own’. The dedication it takes to be an athlete, the ups and downs, the sweat, blood and tears. It’s an incredible experience. So, for these women to dedicate themselves to baseball during such a challenging time in history, is a major contribution to girls’ and womens’ sports.
As a student athlete and coach, I was also in the closet. I was a black student athlete and coach navigating instances of racism and homophobia. So the fact that we get to take a deeper look at race and sexuality in ‘A League of Their Own’ is exciting.
After graduating, you kept your passion by becoming a successful women’s college basketball coach at many universities like Murray State, Southern Illinois University, Morehead State University, UW Milwaukee, Newbury College and Mass College of Libral Arts. What was the most important lesson you wanted to teach these young women you coached?
I saw my role as a leader to my student athletes. I worked very hard to lead by example. All including the skills on the court, accountability in the classroom and the commitment to each other as a team. It wasn’t until later in my career that I had the opportunity to offer them the most important lesson. The lesson of being yourself, who you are in the world and are you feeling all of your identities. During that time, Athletics wasn’t really a welcoming place for LGBTQA players, coaches, etc. When I finally came out of the closet in athletics, I began doing speaking engagements to increase awareness about LGBTQA student athletes, offering support to them and supporting coaches in supporting the LGBTQA members in their athletics communities.
What do you as an actor want to see more of in the industry?
A continuation of diversity in all levels of the industry, diverese narratives and experiences being told and centered.
You have a pretty extensive background when it comes to LGBTQ ethics, diversity and inclusivity. You started a company where you go into work businesses, colleges, organizations to consult about these topics, educate about equality, equity and inclusion. Why did you decide to start this business? What do you believe is the most important thing about educating others about the LGBTQ community?
I wanted to be a part of the solution. With so much violence against LGBTQA communities, especially towards trans women of color, so much conflict, lack of awareness, compassion and empathy, it became really important for me to utilize my talent and experience as an educator to create opportunities for dialogue that could have a positive impact.
What would be your advice to young people who are trying to figure out their identity?
Keep going. You are beautiful and you belong, you are supposed to be here. Find your people, your tribe and hang on. Then, be that person, tribe for someone else.
How do you like to spend your free time? What are some of your hobbies that you enjoy the most?
I love connecting with my family and spending time with my partner and furry bois. I enjoy cooking, exercising, watching scary movies, playing Xbox, shooting hoops and creating.
So, back to ‘A League of Their Own’. What can we expect from the series?
I think it’s going to be a great series. I hope it inspires dialogue, raises awareness and showcases a diverse range of experiences and perspectives that are relatable, inspiring and moving.
Interview by JANA LETONJA
Photography LISA KEATING