MTV's Video Music Awards have historically been a platform to talk about social change, so it came as no surprise when MTV invited members of the transgender military community to attend the award show and walk the red carpet. Six transgender military members came to the iconic ceremony on Sunday night, and while they were all vocal about their experiences as a trans person in the military, there is one thing — or rather, one person — they collectively avoided speaking about: Donald Trump.
And it makes a lot of sense. President Trump is moving forward with a policy that will ban transgender Americans from serving in the United States military in any capacity. On the one hand, the public platform provided by the VMAs red carpet seems like the perfect place to denounce Trump. After all, the show itself was incredibly political, and the show's host, Katy Perry, is a self-proclaimed liberal. It would have been an appropriate, welcoming space for these soldiers to give Trump a piece of their mind.
But on the other hand, these men and women are facets of the United States government. It is in their nature to be poised and respectful. Not to mention, not mentioning Trump could be an even bigger burn. These troops ultimately decided to take the high road, because they have a more important message to deliver to the masses.
"It's important to spread awareness for transgender individuals in the military. We do our jobs just as well as everyone else — we're just as qualified," says Sterling James Crutcher, an Air Force Airman First Class. "We just want people to understand that we are military members doing our job and we'd like to be able to continue to do that."
Crutcher explains that his grandfather, an army chaplain, was the reason he wanted to join the military, and he thanks his grandfather for the person he is today. "He instilled that sense of honor... be above reproach, always, to do your job... it inspired me as a kid and it transferred into my adulthood."
These traits compliment the fact that Crutcher, along with five other trans military members in attendance, don't feel the need to take jabs at Trump. It is, simply, beneath them.
Laila Ireland, a retired Army veteran, echoed Crutcher's statements. "Right now the trending topic is being transgender and in the military," she says. "We hope to inspire young people to be seen, tell their stories." But when asked what she'd like to tell Trump, Ireland said, simply: "We're just here to share our stories and represent the trans community, and we're very happy to be able to do that."
And despite — or perhaps, in the wake of — the ban, their stories are worth celebrating now more than ever. Like so many other members of the military, family and dreaming big are what inspired these individuals to sign up. Ireland joined because it's a "family tradition," and Akira Wyatt, a Navy Corpsman Petty Officer 3rd Class, became a sailor because her father was a marine. Brynn Tannehill, a former Navy Lt. Commander, grew up next to an Air Force base, and always dreamed of flying the planes she watched touch-and-go from her window. For Logan B. Ireland, the Air Force was a way "to further my education in law enforcement and get a master's degree."
It would be a huge loss to the American military and the American people if trans individuals are forced to step down, and their dedication to take the high road is only part of the reason why.