#NEWS: Transgender, at War and in Love nominated for National Emmy
Last spring, Gabe told me that The New York Times wanted us to produce a documentary with a woman we had never met about a topic I quite honestly knew nothing about. Our company was in infancy - Gabe and I had just quit our jobs less than two months beforehand to start SideXSide. The Times Editorial Board was calling for open transgender service in the military and wanted a video to put a face to the written piece introducing who these trans troops are. Remember, at this point gender identity was just beginning to creep into our mainstream conversation, and very few Americans had even hear the word "transgender" before.
The expectations for the piece weren't particularly robust. It was supposed to be a 3 - 5 minute piece at the max.
That was our goal...until we started digging into the material.
Airman Logan Ireland and Army CPL Laila Villanueva, the main characters of our film, are magnetic. They love each other with might, grit and a heavy dose of understanding. Logan is a total sweetheart, just about the nicest guy you could ever want to hang out with. Laila is one of the goofiest, most fun, most loyal friends I know. Oh, and she is a killer karaoke singer (check the video at the bottom).
We ended up delivering an 8 minute cut, thinking we were pushing the limits. But thankfully the Times Op-Doc team are masterful editors who immediately saw the potential. They asked we extend it to 11 minutes.
Three days before we were set to publish this happened. While Caitlyn Jenner was certainly not the first celebrity to reveal herself as trans, she did bring an enormous platform. That week, every major outlet was scrambling to find relevant and poignant transgender stories. But here we were with a 12 minute, polished and unique story to share.
Early in the process we warned Logan and Laila about the backlash that could potentially happen. Beyond jeopardizing their careers, they needed to be prepared for personal attacks online. If you haven't before, go ahead and randomly select the comment section of any socially focused news story online. You'll be appalled at the vitriol.
Thankfully, we were wrong.
The afternoon the Op-Doc published the U.S. Air force elevated the ability to discharge someone on the basis of gender identity from the commander level to the Pentagon, temporarily freezing the ban.
That night Gabe and I sat on our couch and wept while reading the comments people were leaving on Facebook and the video page on the Times. So many viewers identified with Logan and Laila, came to a new understanding of transgender people, and opened their hearts.
It's the most important thing I've done in my career to date, and I was such a small part of it. Logan and Laila are heroes, and all the thousands of transgender troops and Americans who bravely stand beside them.
Later that month Logan and Laila were invited to the White House LGBT event to meet President Obama. Fiona was recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change.
This summer, the transgender military community won the fight: The ban on their service was lifted. We know that Transgender, at War and in Love played a role, and that's a crazy humbling thing to wrap my head around.
Thank you to Logan, Laila, and all of the amazing people who have opened their lives to us for this piece and for the forthcoming feature doc, TransMilitary. Thank you to Jason, Kathleen and Lindsay of the Times for bringing SideXSide in on this project and giving this short documentary such a massive platform to inspire change. Thank you to all our colleagues, friends and family who have supported and encouraged this project. And a special thank you to our co-producer, Fiona, who has been fighting for LGBT rights for more than a decade.
Transgender, at War and in Love was nominated by The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS) for a News and Documentary Emmy® - Best Short Documentary. The award will be presented to the winner on Sept. 21 in New York. We'll be there.
- Jamie Coughlin, Executive Producer