'I was glad that I could be the everyman watching this show,' said Peter Scanavino

By Megan Lewis
Updated September 30, 2015 at 12:00 PM EDT
Credit: Michael Parmelee/NBC

Wednesday’s episode of Law & Order: SVU, titled “Transgender Bridge,” follows the events that unfold after a transgender teen is pushed off a bridge.

However, the act was not entirely intentional. Darius (Dante Brown), a teen as well, sees Avery (Christopher Dylan White) as a “dude in a dress” and decides to prove his manliness to his friends by pushing her around and taking her camera. When Avery falls into Darius, he panics and pushes her away, unaware that the edge of the bridge is so close. The episode goes on to deal with forgiveness, education, and understanding.

“Transgender Bridge” comes at a time when America is still grappling with the discussion of transgender and LGBT rights following Caitlyn Jenner’s very public transition, although executive producer Warren Leight says the episode was shot back in May — prior to Jenner’s Vanity Fair reveal, but following her 20/20 interview with Diane Sawyer. “We’ve been stewing on it for a while,” said Leight.

“There have been a lot of stories about transgender teens, a lot of struggles, a lot of difficulty,” Julie Martin, also an executive producer, added. “So we’re inspired by the media, as always — what people talk about on Twitter and what we’re reading about.”

The conversation in the episode turns to the lack of understanding surrounding transgender individuals, and the conversation at the roundtable followed suit.

“We’re at a moment where it’s becoming understood in certain classes and certain parts of society,” Leight said. “I love that kids now grow up without the stigma attached to homosexuality that, when I was growing up, that was the worst insult you could give someone. A lot of kids are growing up without that stigma in their head, and it’s beginning to go that way for transgender kids. The essential kid in our episode, she’s growing up in a home that’s evolved and supportive, in a school where people look out for her. But she’s prey on the streets. Her guard is down, because she’s received enough acceptance that her guard is dropped on the streets.”

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Detective Sonny Carisi (Peter Scanavino​) had more difficulty understanding Avery than the rest of the SVU team.

“I think it could’ve gone the wrong way — if Carisi was at all dismissive, like, ‘What is this?’ ” said Scanavino​o. “But I think it was coming from a real sense of wanting to understand, because he’d not been exposed to it. I think he grew up in Staten Island, and if there were kids that felt that way, I don’t think that they felt in any way comfortable [about transitioning]. So this kid’s coming from a different place, and he sees [her] as a great kid.

“So I was glad that I could be the everyman watching this show, and I’m not talking about the person that’s saying, ‘A man is a man, a woman is a woman,’ because those people — you’re not going to reach them. I’m talking about the person that’s just sitting there going, ‘I guess I don’t really understand. I don’t have any experience with this.’ … That’s the person that I want to speak for and I want to speak to in that episode.”

Scanavino added that he hopes that these kinds of issues won’t be relevant forever: “I think it’s one of those things that now we’re speaking about, and in 20 years it’s just going to be, ‘Look, happiness is the greatest thing for an individual.’ ”

Law & Order: SVU airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.

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