GLAAD and SPARTA, an LGBT military servicemembers and veterans organization, teamed up to use a cultural approach to get out the message about transgender equality and opposition to the newly imposed transgender military service ban ordered by President Donald Trump. GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis accompanied trans servicemembers Sterling James Crutcher, Logan Ireland, Jennifer Peace, and Akira Wyatt, and trans veterans Laila Ireland and Brynn Tannehill on the red carpet of the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday. Additionally, some of the servicemembers were interviewed “live” during the “MTV VMA Pre-Show” at the Inglewood Forum.
“The message is we just want to be treated like everyone else and discriminated against based solely on our performance. Everybody should want that, regardless of what you do. Even if you’re not interested in the military, if you don’t care about trans rights—our nation is being defended by trans people today. And if we say that they can’t serve anymore, we’re not going to be as safe because we’re not recruiting our best and brightest. We’re only recruiting a select group of people,” Army Captain Jennifer Peace told CNN. “You know, the great thing about my job, and it doesn’t matter who’s president. My job is to serve the American people and support and defend the Constitution. I’ve done it through every war of my generation for the last 13 years and no matter what happens, that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”
“Our people are naturally concerned about what’s going to happen next. But we’re going to continue to do our jobs, day in and day out, the way we’ve done before and the way we’ll continue to do,” former Navy Lt Commander Brynn Tannehill told CNN.
The VMA show itself was packed with powerful social commentary calling for mental health awareness and unity and “resistance” to the deep racial and social divides exposed by the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia where Heather Heyer was killed by a white supremacist.
VMA host Katy Perry set the stage for the show, noting the historic devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey in south Texas and urging viewers to donate to the Red Cross. “We’re praying for your safety in the days to come and stay with you as you rebuild, because we’re all in this together,” Perry said.
Before presenting the first award, Michael Jackson’s daughter Paris Jackson called out racism and Donald Trump, who her father knew well. “We must show these Nazi white supremacist jerks in Charlottesville and all over the country that as a nation with liberty as our slogan we have zero tolerance for their violence, their hatred and their discrimination,” Jackson said. “We must resist.”
The VMAs were not subtle, bringing Heather Heyer’s mother Susan Bro and a descendant of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to speak out about racism and social justice.
“My name is Robert Lee IV. I am a descendant of Robert E. Lee, the Civil War general whose statue was at the center of violence. We have made my ancestor an idol of white supremacy, racism as hate. As a pastor, it is my moral duty to speak out against racism, America’s original sin,” the preacher said. “Today, I call on all of us, with privilege and power to answer God’s call to confront racism and white supremacy head on. We can find inspiration in the Black Lives Matter movement, the women who marched in the women’s march in January, and, especially, Heather Heyer, who died.”
Susan Bro announced the launch of the Heather Heyer Foundation, “a nonprofit organization that will provide scholarships to help more people join Heather’s fight against hatred,” she said. “Heather never marched alone. She was always joined by people from every race and every background in this country.” She also announced a new award category: Best Fight Against the System, saying the six nominees “rebelled against government exploitation.”
Pink gave a whooper of a performance highlighting her 17-year career before accepting the Video Vanguard Award, presented by longtime friend Ellen DeGeneres, and delivering an intimate and powerful acceptance speech telling her young daughter that it’s OK to look and dress like a boy.
Driving to school one day, her 6-year old daughter Willow said, “Mama, I’m the ugliest girl I know.”
“Huh?” Pink replied.
“And she was like, ‘Yeah, I look like a boy with long hair.'” Immediately Pink thought: “My god, you’re 6. Where is this coming from?”
Looking totally at ease while noting the significance, Pink said: “I went home and made a PowerPoint presentation for her, and in that presentation were androgynous rock stars and artists that live their truth; are probably made fun of every day of their lives and carry on and wave their flag; and inspire the rest of us. These are artists like Michael Jackson and David Bowie and Freddie Mercury and Annie Lennox and Prince and Janis Joplin and George Michael, Elton John, so many artists.”
Pink said her daughter didn’t get it so she changed tactics, talking about her own image. “What do you think I look like?” she asked her daughter. “You’re beautiful,” the young one replied. Pink then brought it home: “They say I look like a boy or I’m too masculine or I’m too — I have too many opinions. My body is too strong.”
The audience in the Forum and at home was enraptured, as Pink continued: “I said to her, ‘Do you see me curling my hair?’ She said ‘No Mama.’ I said, ‘Do you see me changing my body?’ She said, ‘No Mama.’ Do you see me changing the way I present myself to the world? ‘No Mama.’ Do you see me selling out arenas all over the world. ‘Yes Mama.’”
Then the clincher: “OK, baby girl. We don’t change. We take the gravel and the shell and we make a pearl. And we help other people to change so that they can see more kinds of beauty.”
Pink then shifted from her daughter to the audience, to the world: “To all the artists here, I’m so inspired by you. Thank you for being your true selves and for lighting the way for us.”
Perhaps missed in the moment as Pink and DeGeneres left the stage was a strip of fabric hanging like a tail from Pink’s outfit with an anti-Trump slam on the way out: “FUMP TRUCK!”
The exclamation point to the night of music and moving moments was the performance by Logic for all those experiencing difficulties in these dark days of the Trump presidency.
Kesha introduced Logic’s performance. “Whatever you’re going through, however dark it may seem, there is an undeniable truth and strength in the fact that you are not alone,” she said.
A point Logic underscored by bringing in fellow artists Alessia Cara and Khalid and a slew of suicide survivors wearing white t-shirts with the number “1-800-273-8255” —the song title and number of an actual suicide prevention hotline.
At the end of his performance, Logic gave a short, moving speech about equality.
“I am here to fight for your equality because I believe that we are all born equal, but we are not treated equally at that is why we must fight!” he boldly exclaimed. “We must fight for the equality of every man, woman, and child regardless of race, religion, color, creed and sexual orientation. So I say here and now if you believe in this message and my message of peace, love, positivity, and equality for all, I demand that you rise to your feet and applaud not only for yourselves but for the foundation we are laying for our children!”