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Heartstopper's Yasmin Finney: 'The government is trying to eradicate trans people'

The young actress is one of the Pride Icons being honoured at the Attitude Pride Awards 2022, in association with Magnum.

2022-07-28

Words: Jamie Tabberer; Photography: Markus Bidaux

“I first saw the casting call for Elle on Instagram,” says Yasmin Finney of the brilliantly Gen Z story of how she joined the hit TV show of 2022, Heartstopper. “It was an international search; the first time I’d seen a trans open casting call — especially for a POC person. I was like: ‘Wow, I need to go for this.’ I did, and it’s been an amazing roller coaster...”

Social media played a key role in 18-year-old Yasmin’s rise pre-Heartstopper, too: she’d already amassed a sizeable TikTok following as a schoolgirl, going on to study performing arts at Manchester College. “I’ve always been camp, flamboyant,” the recipient of an Attitude Pride Icon Award, supported by Magnum says.

“I’ve always had this energy that’s made for the stage.”

Growing up in Manchester wasn’t always easy, however. “I would get bullied because I was so feminine,” she shares.

“But I’ve always been in touch with my femininity. It’s never been something I’ve tried to hide. It was the labels I didn’t know existed. For example, ‘gay’, ‘trans’. It took me a while to find out what I was, the feelings I was feeling. When I saw myself represented in the media and found my [queer family] on Canal Street, that’s when I found Yasmin.”

She streamlined her ambitions after watching Orange Is the New Black and Pose. “The first time I saw myself represented, and imagined doing this for a job, was Pose,” she remembers.

“I was 14 when it came out and have been in love with it ever since. I also saw Laverne Cox in Orange Is the New Black, which was amazing. Seeing POC trans actors on screen, I felt inspired. Those shows shaped me into who I am, gave me that push to go out and do the impossible.”

Yasmin is living proof of the positive consequence of representation. “It’s important in so many ways. When people see Heartstopper, they see positive representation. It’s so simple: young queer people living naturally, fluidly. It’s made the world see queer people in a different light.”

After living her “high school fantasy” on the 2021 shoot, Yasmin shot to astronomical fame overnight (“literally”) when the eight-parter dropped on Netflix in April. The show hit the top 10 in 54 countries, scoring a rare 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

“I didn’t know I’d be in the industry so soon,” Yasmin, who turns 19 in August, admits. “But I knew I wanted to make a change, ultimately, and bring something that hasn’t been done before. I think I’m doing a good job so far. What’s great is the cast are all so young. [Kit Connor and Joe Locke are 18; William Gao is 19.] We’re going through it together.”

She calls the characterisation of Elle, who is trans, “so natural, so positive. There are no negatives, really. And it doesn’t touch on her being trans in the show — that’s what I love about it. There are no trans people dying at the end, no murders. It’s the positive representation we’ve needed for so long.”

Audiences took Yasmin, and Elle, to their hearts: even in an era of online hate, reaction to the show has been “99.9 percent love”. Fans now message the star, saying: “‘You’ve helped me come out’; ‘Your character helped me with my confidence’; ‘Seeing Elle live freely has helped me tackle my gender identity.’ Messages like that — it’s the cherry on top.”

Her influence even saw her name checked in the Houses of Parliament by Labour MP Luke Pollard, who said her performance “has not only inspired me” but also “young trans people across the world. It has saved lives.”

“That was unbelievable — I was shocked,” says Yasmin, before pointing out the unacceptable reason she came up in the first place. “I was mentioned as part of a debate on trans people’s existence.”

The ‘debate’ was called after 145,000 signed a petition demanding that any ban on ‘conversion therapy’ — the scientifically debunked practice of trying to change a person’s sexuality and/or gender identity — be fully LGBTQ-inclusive. The government’s current proposals exclude trans people.

Yasmin opines that “The government is trying to eradicate trans people; we are kind of going backwards.” However, she’s hopeful that “with people like Luke in office, we’ll make change in the future. I’m so excited to see what he does. Labour for the win!”

Indeed, all politicians should heed her advice on how to be better allies to trans people. “We’re just like you,” she says. “We breathe the same air. We’re not aliens. Respect our name; if we change names, don’t deadname us. Education — on pronouns, and how to respect trans people — is huge.”

The future looks dazzling for Yasmin: as well as Heartstopper seasons two and three, she’s joining the cast of Doctor Who as companion Rose, alongside Sex Education’s Ncuti Gatwa as the franchise’s first Black Doctor.

“It feels crazy to be part of the Who-niverse, to be seen in the industry as a Black, queer person — it overwhelms me with joy,” she gushes. “It tells me the industry is changing, we’re slowly getting there.”

She now has two dual fanbases lifting her up (“I know they’ll get along”) and is excited by the idea of the two shows overlapping. “I hope so,” she enthuses. “That would be amazing: a Doctor Who x Heartstopper crossover would be fab. We’re manifesting it...”

And what of her hopes for Elle? Fans of Alice Oseman’s original graphic novels already know her trajectory, but Yasmin nevertheless teases: “There’s going to be love, kisses, pride, joy... But sadness and realness, too. And I hope Elle and Tao have a little moment together because they deserve it. They’ve been friends for a long time. Also, you don’t see trans love stories on TV. It’s about time we had that.”

With her cultural dominance and message of positivity and love, Yasmin was a shoo-in for recognition at this year’s Attitude Pride Awards. “It feels great to have this Attitude Pride Icon Award, to be seen, and that you guys love what I do!” 

The Attitude September/October issue is available to download and order in print now and will be on newsstands from Thursday 4 August.