By Valerie Milano
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 12/11/22 – This is Jessica which premiered at last year’s OUTFEST 2021 in Los Angeles on August 15 at the Harmony Gold Preview House is Andrea Meyerson’s new documentary This is Jessica (83 min., 2021) about Jessica Bair, longtime LGBTQIA+ rights advocate with the Human Rights Campaign, as she shares her struggle to remain in her Mormon faith despite coming out as transgender.
Assigned male at birth in Utah, Jessica always knew she was a girl inside. Jessica fought to remain a Mormon, but the church still does not support LGBTQIA marriage or parenting; nor is there a place for women who had a transgender journey. As Meyerson points out in an interview with THT, the film focuses mainly on Jessica’s complex relationship to her religion as a Mormon.
From her earliest years, when Jessica Bair was being raised as a boy named Jonathan, she knew she was a girl. But born into the Church of the Latter Day Saints, she also knew that admitting this out loud could cause her to lose everything – her family, her faith, and, based on her Mormon beliefs, her life on earth and her eternal soul. Terrified to reveal her true self, young Jessica instead set about creating the perfect life of a young Mormon man, becoming a missionary, marrying young, and starting a family. As Jonathan, Jessica served in the U.S. Army for eight years, hiding from the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy even as she enforced it as a military policeman and special agent in Bosnia in the 1990s. But during the time, Jessica grew despondent about the chasm between who she was and who she was merely pretending to be. When Jonathan finally came out as Jessica, she had to deal with family rejection and feeling cast out of the church where she had always belonged.
Andrea Meyerson relates that she met Jessica in 2008 when Jessica was co-chair for the HRC Los Angeles Steering Committee and volunteered to be Andrea’s escort when Andrea received an award at the HRC Los Angeles Gala, and they became friends. Jessica had become a leader in the work for LGBTQIA+ rights in the Human Rights Campaign and Meyerson wanted to be true to Jessica’s story, focusing her documentary on what “the Mormon religion does to LGBTQI+ youth in their beliefs. Meyerson says that she learned that Jessica was raised in a conservative Mormon upbringing in Utah. “My curiosity got the best of me, and I couldn’t help but wonder ‘how did this passionate lesbian activist navigate the journey that led her to this place?’ So, like any good documentary filmmaker, I asked Jessica if I could tell her story on film.” At that time, Jessica was not willing to go public with her story. Some years later, we saw each other at an Outfest event. Jessica was serving on the Outfest Board of Directors and was ready to tell her story in the hopes that it encourages others not to commit suicide and to live free. Jessica wanted to share her story for the same reason she makes most decisions, to be of service to others.” Jessica had become a leader in the work for LGBTQIA+ rights in the Human Rights Campaign and Meyerson wanted to be true to Jessica’s story, focusing her documentary on what “the Mormon religion does to LGBTQIA+ youth in their beliefs. And because there is such a high rate of suicide among those young people.”
Andrea Meyerson is an accomplished writer, director, and producer. In 2002, Andrea produced and directed the award-winning documentary Laughing Matters. The success of the critically acclaimed film spawned three award-winning sequels. To date, she has created twelve award-winning feature documentaries, all with the intention to educate, enlighten, and entertain. In 1995, Andrea founded Women On A Roll, one of the country’s largest social organizations for lesbians. Now in its 23rd year, the organization still offers worldwide travel and other unique opportunities for women. With the arrival of the COVID pandemic, Andrea has shifted to an online social experience for lesbians with Women On the Net.