VR FOR UNDERSTANDING

Breaking barriers around the transgender community.

After almost 12 years of decorated service, Shannon Scott’s career in the U.S. Air Force had come to a crossroads. Because of her gender identity, she was facing a dishonorable discharge. “[I] had two decisions: I could live my truth or I could end my life,” Shannon says. “I chose to be brave and live my most authentic life.”

Shannon is among three voices from the transgender community featured in Authentically Us, a VR series created in partnership with Pride Foundation. At a pivotal time when transgender rights are gaining mainstream visibility, the transgender community is simultaneously confronting heightened levels of violence and discrimination. It’s against this backdrop that Authentically Us delivers a powerful, humanizing message: those who identify outside of the gender binary are everyday people who have always been a part of our communities.

“Virtual reality doesn’t have to take you far away,” says Director Jesse Ayala. “There’s also the opportunity to meet people down the street from you.” In Authentically Us, Jesse introduces us to Shannon, and also to Aiden Crawford and Acton Seibel, who, like Shannon, are active members of the Pacific Northwest’s transgender community. The immersive power of VR brings us into their stories, connecting us to the experiences and challenges they face. “You’re with them in these emotional moments,” Jesse says. “You’re engaging at a very different level.”

Years after she embraced her own identity, Shannon says it’s powerful to share that truth with the world. In episode 2, viewers witness Shannon’s inspirational advocacy during a meeting with legislators and even walk beside her through a military cemetery as she pays her respects to LGBTQ servicemembers. “When I share my story, people have a chance to get to know me, to open their hearts and change their minds,” Shannon says.

The Authentically Us production team found it crucial that members of the LGBTQ community were also part of the story behind the camera. The crew embodied a diverse representation of the LGBTQ community, helping the series reach a broader audience and tell a more authentic story. “I didn’t know many transgender people before,” Jesse says of his experience directing the films. “Now I have a group of people that I feel very connected to. I can see them being part of my life for a very long time moving forward.”

With transgender-related ballot initiatives receiving attention around the country, the series is adding voices to the conversation around public policy. “Seeing a personal story told firsthand — that also weaves through the current events and activities of the day — makes those political turning points a lot more real,” says Dave Upthegrove, a Seattle-area county council member. “It really hits home how the decisions are being made and impacting real human beings.”

Now as a board member for the Human Rights Campaign, and as the president of United Equality Consulting, which helps bring LGBTQ equality to the workplace, Shannon talks about how small actions can make a big difference when it comes to transgender justice. “I encourage people to be curious, to ask questions rather than assuming,” she says. “Take the time to listen, try to understand and see someone for who they are.”