"What do you think? Gene or Gina?" That's how Law & Order: SVU subtly confirmed that the newest member of the elite squad, Officer Katriona "Kat" Tamin played by Jamie Gray Hyder, is a member of the LGBTQ community.
There was no fanfare, there was no shock from her coworkers. This wasn't billed as a "very special episode." And that's just the way it should be, according to Hyder.
"I think that kind of bringing it up in this very casual way is important because it doesn't need to stand out. I think by it not totally standing out to the members of the squad, it really will help the community with acceptance when it comes to that community. Because sadly in the last year, the support for the LGBTQ community has eroded. You can see it in statistics and in surveys. It's scary and it's sad," Hyder said.
"I think that now is a better time than ever to present a member of this community in a way that reminds you that we're all the same and that we're all human beings," Hyder continued.
There's been much discussion about introducing more diversity to Law & Order: SVU. The long-running series is set in one of the most diverse places in the world and for years had Ice-T as the only series regular of color. The show hasn't had a series regular LGBTQ character since BD Wong's Dr. George Huang exited in season 12. Hyder said she was in discussion with the writers for several months about exploring her character's personal details.
"Really our main goal is to represent a full human being, and to have the opportunity to open up our cast to the LGBTQ community is one that I think they're very excited about. It's a choice that I definitely take very seriously and comes with a lot of responsibility, I think," she said.
Hyder said she feels responsible to make sure they aren't "representing any sort of stereotype or any negative connotation that's associated with the community."
"I want to present a whole person and Kat's sexual orientation is only a part of who she is. And while it's a very important part to her, I think the goal in the end is to present a whole and nuanced human. It's important to me as a person to make sure that while Kat's, bisexuality definitely informs a lot as to her life, it's definitely not the only aspect of her life," she added.
The additional representation is something fans have been clamoring for, to see a member of the LGBTQ community on the show not as the survivor or victim of sexual assault.
"And there are as many sides to bisexual or LGBTQ stories as there are to maybe someone who identifies as straight, you know? It's a side of the world that needs to be represented and it needs to be represented accurately. And I do think that the show has been very careful not to simply throw in a character from the LGBTQ community just to sort of check that box. I think that it makes sense for Kat and I think that it still feels realistic and grounded," Hyder said. "I, Jamie, have been intimate both with men and women in my life and so I can definitely understand the idea of being attracted to people without needing to fully choose one gender for instance. I can understand that."
Introduced in the first episode of season 21, Hyder went on to become a series regular after serving in a recurring capacity. Viewers have watched Kat adapt to working as a member of a squad rather than a lone wolf.
"I am extremely happy with what I got to do as Kat. I really feel like we got a lot out of her in one season. While she still has a long way to go professionally, I think that she has come along from the beginning. I think she's maybe working a little bit better with others, which perhaps wasn't her strength to begin with," Hyder said. "And it's been really interesting for me as an actress to watch and sort of be a part of the process as the writers are creating this character right in front of me. So, to kind of be a part of that process was a unique experience for me."
What hasn't been a unique experience for Hyder is dealing with vocal fans. "Sadly, this is not my first troll rodeo," Hyder laughed. The actor has gotten her fair share of love—and some hate—since joining the show. However, Hyder said it's nothing compared to what she got when she voiced the character of Lt. Salter in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. However, those attacks were more personal than what she's received from some SVU viewers.
"One of my favorites—and I have to laugh because it's actually funny despite it being very serious and mean and bullying—somebody told me Mount Rushmore called and wants one of their noses back," she laughed. "I mean, I laugh but not everyone is going to laugh at that, which is why it's important and why I point out when people do this, even if it's something as silly as, 'I'm not really into this character.' It's like, OK, cool. You are entitled to your opinion. I may clap back a little bit. It's not going to be mean-spirited, but it just always reminds you that there's a human on the other side of these computers, on both sides. And that's the important part about dealing with trolls."
For Hyder, getting any kind of reaction from a viewer is a good reaction. Her experiences as of late have been about some viewers not taking to the character of Kat, not personally attacking her.
"If people are saying, 'I don't really like this new girl, Kat.' Well, they've been watching this show and a part of the squad for way longer than Kat has," she said. "So, someone coming in who doesn't necessarily want to follow the way things have been is going to rub some people the wrong way. But simply getting a reaction out of viewers, I believe as an actor is your goal. So, to have a negative response to my character is still, in my opinion, a positive response to me as an actress."
Law & Order: SVU will return for a season 22 on NBC.
"Really the whole experience of being on SVU has been a once in a lifetime opportunity. And the fact that I get to continue being a part of it is just one of the greatest privileges that I've had as an actress," Hyder said. "I'm very grateful to the whole cast and crew for being so warm and welcoming and kind of helping me find my way."
(E! and NBC are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)