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04/12/2018 02:40 pm ET

'Law & Order: SVU' Tackles Trans Military Debate With Powerful Storyline

And they cast a trans actor of color to depict it, too.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” struck a nerve this week with a storyline that reflected the ongoing debate over transgender people in the military. 

Wednesday’s episode, titled “Service,” focused on a trial involving a young woman, Sandy “Sky” Ksenivch (played by Morgan Taylor Campbell), who worked as an escort and was allegedly raped in a hotel room. One of the witnesses in the case was a soldier named Jim Preston (Marquise Vilsón). 

Preston, who was in the same room at the time of the alleged incident, was initially hesitant to cooperate with investigators. By the episode’s conclusion, it became clear why: Testifying would require Preston to reveal that he identifies as transgender.

In a climactic scene, Preston took the stand and discussed his gender identity during cross-examination by attorney James Olson (Christopher Wiehl). 

“I am a transgender man. If you wanted to know that, you could have just asked,” he said in the scene, which you can view above.

Among those to praise the show’s depiction of such a hot-button issue was series star Mariska Hargitay, who plays SVU commanding officer Olivia Benson. 

Vilsón, whose credits include the off-Broadway drama “Charm” and the upcoming movie “Ben Is Back,” starring Julia Roberts, identifies as transgender in real life. Preston’s story, he said, was particularly relevant given the Trump administration’s rollback of trans rights, including its attempts to ban trans people from the military. 

“Taking on this role, I had to do my homework by speaking with people of trans experience who are presently in the service to get a sense of what they are actually going through now,” the actor told GLAAD’s Nick Adams. “Under the current administration, there seems to be a significant change for them in the way they are being treated.”

Ultimately, Vilsón hopes his “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” performance will help to clear up some viewers’ “fear and misinformation when it comes to trans folks.” 

“There will be people watching this episode who have never met someone like Jim Preston and may have had preconceived notions about someone like him,” he said. “Following this episode, they may actually see him for who he is and not what they believe him to be.” 

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