Law & Order: SVU has been telling us the stories of the most intimate atrocities of humankind for 17 seasons. The “ripped from the headlines” too messed up to be true, but is, is especially captivating and important because “…sexually based offenses are especially heinous…” I’ll admit; the show can get a bit on the nose and cheesy. However, every few episodes is a standout. The third episode of Season 17, “Transgender Bridge” is one that I am particularly thrilled with because it’s not only topical, but it brings to primetime the issues of Transgender Violence.
The episode opens with a comparison montage of two teenage boys. Boy #1– White, rich, supportive parents, private school. Boy #2– Black, public school, mom working a double shift. This is where we learn Boy #1, is actually a trans girl, Avery.
Cut to– the iconic text over black, revealing the location, the two teens’ first interaction at Fort Tyron Park, NYC. Boy #2 is Darius. Along his crew, little sister in tow, they spot Avery. The boys are confused, offended, and most of all curious.
“Yo, check out this dude in a dress!”
“Nah, man, that’s just a tore-up girl.”
“Only one way to find out.”
Darius approaches Avery, and the other boys follow. They begin to harass and bully Avery, pulling up her skirt, asking if she’s wearing a bra, taking her camera. It’s a difficult scene to watch. Finally, when Avery tries to get her camera back from Darius, their close contact causes him to “bug out” and he pushes her over the bridge.
What’s interesting about SVU’s “ripped from the headlines” formula is how they incorporate the cast to give their opinion and ask some real questions. As the three boys are brought in for questioning down at the station, their parents and guardians give their opinions on Avery, offering an example of all the different types of mindsets associated with violence against the Trans Community. One mom scoffs at the allegations against her son with “…That boy goes around dressed like a girl? You should be talking to his parents, not my son!” One of the other boy’s grandmother’s inquiry after her grandson describes Avery as “one of them ‘he-shes’ who wears makeup and women’s clothing”, and questions “Why would anyone do that?” Our hero, Sergeant Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) replies with “That’s not the issue!”
Throughout the episode, the detectives spend a majority of the time trying to keep everyone on track: one minor pushed another minor off of a bridge. Everyone seems to be distracted with the fact that Avery is Trans. One Detective even had to step back and ask his colleague for help understanding, which leads to a simple and straightforward response that primetime viewers needed to hear:
Det. Rollins: Um… There’s a difference between gender identity and sexuality, Carisi.
Det. Carisi: Yeah, yeah. You know, my parents, they think this is all about getting attention.
Det Rollins: You were a 14-year-old boy once. [laughs] And would you or any other boy you knew put on a skirt if it didn’t come from a really real place?
Det Carisi: [scoffs] No, not a chance.
The character of Darius starts to develop a little more as everyone prepares for the trial. Anxiety is high as Darius’ working-class mother (guest star Adrienne Moore, “Black Cindy” from Orange is The New Black) tries her hardest to defend Darius’ character saying “he’s no thug”. Then, as the two sides were starting to understand and even forgive each other, after Darius’ remorseful apology letter, Avery dies from complications. Darius is now on trial for murder. Though the episode is filled with heartbreaking scenes like Avery’s funeral, and Darius‘ cross-examination, the part that did me in was Darius‘ arrest. Watching detectives tell Darius‘ mother that they have to take him, and watching him weep with his mother and sister was a reminder that Darius is only a child, who made a mistake. There is no hatred anywhere.
The end of the trial is a statement for togetherness and tolerance. Avery’s father testified for the Defense:
“My wife and I want to make sure that Avery’s death means something, that no transgender child should ever again be singled out or hurt, but we also want to make sure that the tragedy is not compounded by the tragedy of taking another child away from his family.”
The response to this episode has been overwhelming. Some salute law and order for the raising trans awareness while others have pointed out the show’s offensiveness because it doesn’t represent the violence that disproportionally faces Trans people of color, and perpetuates the stereotype that Black male youth are always the perpetrator.
The episode did one thing right: no matter who you are, what you identify as, or where you come from, we’re all the same. We’re all human; we need to treat each other fairly because we all feel pain the same way.
Here’s the episode in full, courtesy of Hulu. Let us know your thoughts on the on the episode in the comments below.
Images: Episode Screenshots