Sophia Burset (Orange is the New Black)
It is a testament to the quality of OITNB’s writing that this list contains not one, but two of its characters. Laverne Cox plays the upbeat Sophia Burset, sent to Litchfield Penitentiary after being convicted of credit card fraud.
Snippets of Sophia’s backstory parcelled out through the series eventually reveals the truth behind her incarceration; she stole the credit cards to help fund her gender reassignment surgery.
Sophia’s wife eventually comes to terms with her spouse (formerly a firefighter named Marcus)’s transition but son Michael is slower to accept it. It is revealed that Michael, angry and confused at his father’s transition is the one who rats his father out to the police.
In the earlier seasons of OITNB, Sophia encounters relatively little transphobia (relatively little in this case meaning only verbal abuse), as her fellow inmates accept her as her identified gender.
However in Season 3, an incident involving their sons leads to a dispute between Sophia and latino leader Gloria. After she accidentally receives a black-eye from Sophia, Gloria begins spreading transphobic rumours about her, eventually leading to a boycott of Sophia’s hair salon.
Afterwards, she becomes the target of harassment and is attacked by a number of inmates. When she threatens to sue the prison, she is sent to the SHU (Secure Housing Unit) “for her own protection.”
She remains here for the rest of season 3 and the vast majority of season 4, languishing in obscurity and deprived of her dignity (and her wig).
She is finally released in ‘The Animals’, she discovers that her salon has been taken over by bad girl Ruiz’s drug gang. Happily, Gloria – wracked with guilt over her treatment of Sophia – ejects the gang and even returns Sophia’s wig to her as an act of penitence. Aw.