TransMilitary Screened in San Diego

| Feb 11, 2019
Spread the love

By Melanie Yarborough


TransMilitary panel moderator Jennifer Nedbalsky, participants Laila Villanueva, Kyle Knight, and Veronica Zerrer of the Neutral Corner support group.

The documentaryTransMilitary was recently screened at San Diego California’s 9th Annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival, held at Balboa Park’s Museum of Photographic Arts.Military issues particularly resonate in San Diego: The city is home to three naval bases, three marine bases and one coast guard station.

TransMilitary chronicles the experiences of Air Force Sergeant Logan Ireland, US army Corporal Laila Villanueva, US army Captain Jennifer Peace and US army First Lieutenant El Cook. Their stories put faces on the effects of the ban on transgender service ban: being forced into the closet, harassment from commanders and peers if discovered, and delay of career advancement. It also means the threat of discharge: loss of the financial ability to support loved ones, as well as benefits and pensions. And finally, it means shattering their dreams of serving their country. As Logan puts it “I stand to lose my career, my future, my foundation…I stand to lose everything”.

The documentary also shows us these service members devotion to their work. El says that as a Human Resources Officer, “I’m not just a soldier, I’m a leader. Everything that I do, every single day, is in the service of soldiers”. Jennifer says that since she transitioned “All my performance reviews have been excellent…It’s made me have more confidence in myself. Overall, I think it made me better at what I do”.

In one important segment, the LGBT military organization Service members, Partners, and Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All (SPART*A) organizes meetings in which Logan, Laila, Jennifer and El see Pentagon leaders to advocate for their right to serve. It’s a huge risk, as all could face discharge for coming out as transgender. Organizer Sue Fulton says of the service-members’ courage: “It’s going to be nerve-wracking for them. [But] the thing about a good soldier is if you say ‘Well, here is the task and it’s a tough task’, a good soldier will say ‘then give it to me’. And these are the folks we have”.

The presentation was followed by a panel discussion moderated by film festival Deputy Director Jennifer Nedbalsky. Panel members included Laila Villanueva, one of the films protagonists, Kyle Knight, Human Rights Watch LGBT researcher, and retired Army Major Veronica Zerrer, President of San Diego’s Transgender Support Organization Neutral Corner. The panelists made several important points in the question and answer session:

Kyle noted that President Trump’s tweet reimposing the ban in July 2017 has met with resistance from the military and members of the US congress. Even Utah Senator Orrin Hatch expressed disagreement, which is “really off-brand for him!” While the reimposed ban has been terrifying, we’ve seen many of those affected stand up for the rights. The lesson is “You don’t mess with people who volunteer to serve this country.”

Laila emphasized “We go to work just like anyone else and continue to do our job. We are assets that need to be put to work. We just want to be seen as equals.” Veronica added that the allegation that trans-troops somehow weaken military lethality is simply not true: “I have two words: Prove it” and that trans-personnel do indeed know “how to put steel on target”.

When asked what members of the public can do to show support, Laila advised that we should learn to LISTEN first to other points of view, in order to get the conversation started. She also affirmed “See Something Say Something”: If you see someone trans being bullied, support them.

Veronica noted the importance of BEARING WITNESS. This means actively sharing ones experiences and observations about the trans community with others. It also means going outside one’s comfort zone, and being willing to dialogue with and educate those who are opposed to trans rights.

This writer asked the panelists “What can trans military personnel teach the civilian trans community”? Veronica responded “Perseverance” and “Leading by example”. Laila added “Resiliency, self love, and self care”.

For more information on the film, please see

Spread the love

Tags: ,

Category: Transgender Community News


About the Author ()

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: