Freeform's The Fosters has been at the forefront of LGBT representation for years now, and in tonight's groundbreaking episode "Scars," Elliot Fletcher's character is bringing transgender issues, as well as immigration issues, to the forefront of America's minds.
Fletcher plays Aaron, Callie Adams Foster's ex-boyfriend. The now-friends have taken it upon themselves to protect undocumented students who are being illegally targeted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at their schools and rounded up for deportation.
They get word of an imminent ICE raid at a local high school and Callie and Aaron rush over to warn the students before agents arrive. During the chaos, Aaron gets in the way of one of the officers and is arrested for obstruction of justice.
When Aaron is booked in a central jail cell with other men, panic screams from his eyes. He anxiously calls Callie the first chance he gets, "I gotta get out of here before I get processed." Aaron looks around nervously as his voice drops to a whisper, "They're going to strip search me. I won't be safe in central jail...if people find out."
Transgender people are at a particularly high risk in the prison system. Trans women are nine times more likely than other prisoners to be victims of sexual harassment or assault. The jail system's solution? Solitary confinement.
Fletcher says filming the scene was difficult, but an important story for him to tell.
"I know it's all fake, and I didn't feel in any actual danger, but hearing the lines, 'so, you're a woman,' it's not particularly nice," he told PRIDE. "I know the episode is going to educate a lot of people who have no idea how trans or queer people are treated in prison or in jail situations, how we are put in solitary confinement because people don't know what to do with us."
Without giving too much away, the experience later motivates Fletcher's character, Aaron, to come out to the world as trans.
"If we don't put a human face on this, I don't think anything's gonna change."
The scene also points out differences between coming out as transgender vs. gay. It's powerful for Fletcher, who helped rewrite the script to reflect his own coming out experience as a transgender man. "Some of the dialogue, when it was first written there was a lot of feedback that as given by me and Nick Adams, who works at GLAAD, to make it more authentic."
"When you come out as a gay now, people see it as something like, 'Ohmygod you're amazing, that's awesome, you're so much more you now.' But when you come out to someone as trans, you're immediately asked, 'Well, are you sure?' You're asked all these questions. If you've transitioned and then you come out to someone, some people feel really deceived, like they've been lied to even though they haven't."
Fletcher believes the episode is making room for some important social conversations about transgender rights and immigration rights, underscoring the need for drastic—and more humanizing—reforms in both.
With the degrading conversations around undocumented immigrants, brought to the forefront by the Trump era, basic human decency has been pushed into the background. Just this past weekend, ICE told an HIV-positive man that he was to be deported back to Venezuela at the end of the month, a country where he has no access to the medication he needs to survive. "You are sending me to my death!" he told immigration officials.
"No matter what your only privilege is, you should put it to good use and help other people," Fletcher couldn't stress enough. "Help specifically targeted minorities right now: undocumented immigrants, trans women of color, people who actually need to be recognized as human beings."
"Scars" premieres tonight at 8pm on Freeform.