Trans Service Members At The VMAs: “The Country’s Safety Is At Risk When We Don’t Have The Best People Serving”

"Our service members, our battle buddies, want us there. Our commanders want us there," said Captain Jennifer Peace.

Last night on the VMAs, six transgender Americans who are serving or have served in the United States military joined GLAAD’s Sarah Kate Ellis on the red carpet to bring much-needed awareness to Donald Trump’s ban on trans service members.

Active duty personnel Sterling James Crutcher, Logan Ireland, Jennifer Peace, and Akira Wyatt walked alongside veterans Laila Ireland and Brynn Tannehill, offering themselves as faces of the movement.

Giving the public a chance to meet them, Peace says, is invaluable.

“When you put a name and a face to it, and see whose lives are being affected—when all that we’ve asked for is to be treated just like everyone else, and ask to be discriminated against based only on our performance, it has an impact,” Captain Peace told NewNowNext. “‘Oh my god, that’s the person this is affecting,’ That’s why this matters.”

Petty Officer Akira Wyatt said she had no qualms about being out in such a public way if it helps “anybody who is trans in the military, and [trans] in general.”

“Being here with MTV right now is such a great opportunity for us to share our stories with people,” she added.

Ellis said GLAAD is “respond[ing] to what’s going on in culture,” and right now, that’s tackling the administration’s transphobic policies.

“They have targets on their back for no good reason,” she told NewNowNext of patriotic trans service members. “But really, I think what’s most important here is that nothing went wrong. Trans people have been serving this country for decades, and in the past 18 months there was an integrated plan for them to serve openly. This is about an administration that has politicized trans people within the military and not thought of the country first.”

Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage

Peace echoed Ellis’ sentiment, saying that the U.S. should strive to have its best and brightest in the military. “If you take a group of people who are qualified to serve and you remove them, we are not as safe as we could be.”

“There was a time when women couldn’t serve, there was a time when blacks couldn’t serve. And there was a time when gays and lesbians couldn’t serve,” she added. “And there was a time when trans people couldn’t serve. If we start going backward, then everyone should feel it. The military is at risk, and the country’s safety is at risk, when we don’t have the best people serving.”

Peace, Wyatt, and their fellow trans service members hope to dispel the myth that trans soldiers are looking for special treatment, or that they put fellow soldiers in danger.

“In our units, we are just like every other service member. The unit cohesion and the teams that we’ve built—they support us,” she said. “Our service members, our battle buddies, want us there; our commanders want us there. We play a vital role in the military, just like everyone else.”

Akira Wyatt and Jennifer Peace spread the word #notransban #vmas

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Surveys indicate a majority of Americans have no issue with openly trans service members, so the key is getting the word out and letting the public see there are real people affected by this ban.

“My hope is that more people will get involved, that more people will sign up, speak out, rally, show up at protests,” said Ellis. “When you see and meet the people being targeted, you realize that these are real people. Sometimes when you just say ‘trans military service members,’ you’re like ‘What is that?’ And then you meet people who actually are those people and then you —it strikes a chord and we know that hearts and minds are changed and moved in this country when you meet people and learn their stories.”

“Share our stories. Talk to people. You have to make this personal,” Peace says. “You have to reach out to the community and hear someone who’s trans and care about it. So being here is great but it’s just about sharing our stories and getting everyone that we can to help us.”

You can support the #NoTransBan campaign by purchasing a “They Make Us Stronger” t-shirt, or donating to SPART*A, which is dedicated to supporting LGBT military personnel, veterans, and their families.

Trish Bendix is a Los Angeles-based writer.