As a new policy restricting transgender people from serving openly in the U.S. military goes into effect this month, advocates are on Capitol Hill to protest the change and support those currently serving.
TransMilitary, a 2018 documentary by Gabriel Silverman, Fiona Dawson and Jamie Coughlin about transgender military service, will be screened Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and other lawmakers expected to attend.
The film centers around four transgender service members -- Air Force Staff Sgt. Logan Ireland, former Army Cpl. Laila Villanueva Ireland and Army Capts. Jennifer Peace and El Cook -- as they navigate Pentagon transgender policy pendulum swings. The 90-minute documentary captures everyday moments with families and struggles they've faced, including conflicts with their birth genders, discrimination and combat deployments.
In one scene, Ireland's father, Todd Ireland, discusses the stress of having a child in Afghanistan and not feeling free to talk to coworkers about Logan's service because his colleagues think he has a daughter.
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"I don't know where the mix-up was, if you want to call it that," Todd Ireland says of Logan's male gender identity, which was evident in childhood. "But I know God created this person and we're to accept that person for what that person is."
In another scene, Peace is transferred to an infantry training unit where she is concerned how the command will react to her gender identity. But three months into the assignment, she realizes her command knows -- and doesn't care.
"I may be the first transgender woman sleeping in a female barracks in the Army," Peace says in a self-shot video during an exercise. "It shouldn't be any more complicated than that."
Laila Villanueva served in the Army from 2003 to 2015, enlisting as a male. While she dressed as a woman privately, at work she had to "pretend" -- her words -- to be a male soldier. "Every morning before I head to work, I have to spend at least 20 to 25 minutes fixing my hair. I carry around a printout out of AR 670-1, the hair regulations for males, because I know someone is going to say something to me. ... This face doesn't even say male. It's crazy."
Transgender people were barred from serving openly in the U.S. armed forces until 2016, when then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter lifted the ban after a six-month study of the issue.
In July 2017, however, via a series of tweets, President Donald Trump announced he would reintroduce the ban, saying the military must be focused "on decisive and overwhelming ... victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail."
The administration issued a policy in August 2017 effectively barring all transgender troops from serving, a rule that was to be implemented in March 2018. A series of court rulings, however, temporarily halted enactment. A new version was later introduced that excluded from service transgender persons diagnosed with gender dysphoria, as well as those who have transitioned.
Transgender personnel already serving are exempt from the new policy, which goes into effect April 12.
Speaking with Military.com about TransMilitary and the pending restrictions on transgender service, Peace, who has nearly 15 years of military service, said she plans to continue serving until retirement. She encourages transgender people to enlist, even if they can't serve openly.
"There's a fight to be had here. This ban certainly is going to be contested. People like myself are going to continue to fight it," Peace said. "Everyone who is qualified and capable to joining the military and willing to join the military should, because you can't fix the system from the outside."
Zeke Stokes, chief programs officer at GLAAD, the gay-rights advocacy group sponsoring Wednesday's screening, said the event is designed to show policymakers and military leaders that transgender personnel simply want to "serve this country alongside other brave patriots without discrimination."
"TransMilitary tells the story of transgender service members fighting for our country, while unfortunately, they fight for their careers in the midst of a proposed ban on their service by the president," Stokes said. "Their stories -- and their service and sacrifice -- are undeniable."