There are over 15,000 American service members who identify as transgender. That number’s likely always been something of a constant, but when President Barack Obama lifted the long-standing ban on transgender troops serving in the armed forces in 2016, the brave men and women fighting for their country were at least given the freedom to be who they are, all while putting their lives on the line for the greater good.
Now, we have Donald Trump, who made it one of his first priorities to undo Obama’s directive, thus reinstating the official discrimination against transgender service members and potentially costing thousands of patriotic Americans the lives and careers they’d worked for.
Some states are defying that ban in their National Guards. (Those being New Jersey, Nevada, California, Washington, Oregon, and New Mexico – feel free to give Gov. Mills a call.) And the Democrat-controlled House passed a nonbinding resolution condemning Trump’s actions, which is all well and good. But for those thousands of people whose choice to serve is now rendered null and void because of a reactionary and prejudicial politician (and a split Supreme Court), reality is now distressingly similar to that of others who’ve historically been excluded from military service because of who they are.
“TransMilitary,” screening at Waterville’s Railroad Square Cinema on Thursday at 7:15 p.m., is a new documentary about a handful of transgender active service members as they tell their stories about fighting – and perhaps dying – for a country that, with the stroke of a politician’s pen, has suddenly decided they’re not worthy to do so. Winner of the Audience Award for best documentary at last year’s SXSW film festival, Fiona Dawson and Gabe Silverman’s film follows service members Senior Airman Logan Ireland, Cpl. Laila Villanueva, Capt. Jennifer Peace and 1st Lt. El Cook as they share their experiences. It’s a sometimes painful, sometimes inspirational, always thought-provoking portrait of the way in which the American military continues to illustrate the many contradictions inherent in a culture whose demands for loyalty and sacrifice come with unjust conditions.
Watch the trailer:
Presented by the Mid-Maine Global Forum, the screening of “TransMilitary” will be followed by discussion with a number of people intimately familiar with institutional prejudice. Speaker Kyle Knight of the organization Human Rights Watch, which has worked hard fighting Trump’s transgender ban, will be on hand, as will Katherine (Katie) Taylor, a Coast Guard veteran, founder of the Kennebec Valley Queer Coalition and herself a transgender American. For them, the ban is a betrayal, not only of the supposed American ideals of equality and justice, but of the dedication of those who’ve risked their lives to defend them. (The U.S. armed forces are now down over 15,000 active duty members, so, if you’re in agreement with Trump’s ban, feel free to volunteer.)
The “TransMilitary” screening is only part of Mid-Maine Global Forum’s mission to inspire conversation and understanding on a variety of topics. Knight will come to the screening (following his return from a trip to Asia on behalf of LGBTQ rights for Human Rights Watch) directly from a noon Thursday presentation at South China’s Erskine Academy. As explained by Mid-Maine Global Forum’s secretary Steve Knight (no relation), this year’s outreach program focused on transgender issues because of heightened awareness caused by Trump’s ban.
“We do a spring program in area high schools, where we have a speaker do presentations during the day, and then we try to have a film at night to go along with them,” Knight said. “And this year, Railroad Square, a nonprofit that’s always there for us, is hosting.”
Mid-Maine Global Forum is also a nonprofit, meaning that for people like Knight, the organization’s mission involves volunteerism and sacrifice. “We raise money to do things like fly Kyle up here from his home in New York, and to get a film like ‘TransMilitary.’ Luckily, we pled poverty, and the filmmakers were willing to let us have it for a reasonable price,” Knight laughs.
A longtime educator currently teaching at Fairfield’s Kennebec Valley Community College, Knight says that his experience teaching a large number of veterans there has taught him that for service members the issue of transgender troops is, well, not really an issue at all. “It’s an issue I think not a lot of people really know a lot about,” says Knight. “A lot of people don’t know exactly what is happening. The film is a story about four transgender military people talking about their experiences. It’s a very good documentary, and I really hope people – especially students – will come out to see it.”
In keeping with that hope, the Railroad Square screening is free for all students ($5 for the rest of us), and promises an eye-opening look at how something most experience only through the abstraction of the nightly news truly affects those committed to serving their country under the most difficult and dangerous of circumstances.
“TransMilitary” is screening at 7:15 p.m. Thursday at Waterville’s Railroad Square Cinema. Tickets are $5, free for students. For more info and tickets, visit railroadsquarecinema.com.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
Starts Friday: “Hail Satan?” Provocatively cheeky documentary about the ways in which members of the Satanic Temple have worked to challenge Americans’ ideas about what constitutes a religion and what role religion should have in society.
The Apohadion Theater
Wednesday, May 22: “Go Grandriders.” The Apohadion’s Motorcycle Movie Night tradition rides on, this time (the 11th) bringing us this feel-great documentary about a group of 80-something motorcycle-riding Taiwanese adventurers as they embark on a cycle trip around the entire island.