Transgender ex-Navy SEAL at Hill urges tolerance

Friday , June 27, 2014 - 7:06 AM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — As one of the first military installations in the country to honor June as Pride Month, under the direction of a recent policy from the Department of Defense, Hill Air Force Base invited 20-year veteran Kristin Beck, a transgender woman, to speak to Hill leaders, servicemen, and community members this week.

Beck commended Hill for hosting the pride event. “This is what America is all about, celebrating our diversity, and coming together from all walks of life,” said Beck, who is known for her service as a Navy Seal, with 13 deployments and seven combat deployments. From her time of service, Beck earned the Bronze Star medal with combat valor as well as the Purple Heart.

When Beck stepped up to the podium, she took off her jacket, revealing a sleeveless green dress with her medals pinned to it. Beck showed off her thick arm muscles, saying, “I can be a strong woman. We are all different shapes and sizes,” even admitting having worn a corset when she initially began dressing like a woman six years ago, thinking she had to look a certain way. “I learned that I don’t need to fit all those molds. I like where I am and where I am going, but we need to learn to stop judging.”

Beck spoke openly about where she has been and what her future holds, displaying pictures of how she looked while serving in the military, looking very much as a man with a long, curly beard.

“I was an angry beard guy, fighting in Iraq, Somalia, and other countries,” said Beck, pointing out her old self in the pictures. “That was me, but I am the same person you see up here on the stage,” referring to her long blond hair, makeup, dress, and heels. “We are all the same in the end, and we all deserve dignity. We are all created equal, and that is what America is built on and what we fight for today.”

Beck said there is a problem in the country with violence toward transgender people, bringing up the grim statistic that one transgender person is killed per week in America. “Most people don’t know there is a lot of violence and abuse, with hundreds of news articles of incidents,” said Beck.

The room grew somber when Beck related her experience a few years ago walking down a street in Tampa, Fla., dressed in a respectful outfit. “I was in nothing off the wall. I’m not that person in magazines, I just look like a dude in a dress sometimes,” said Beck. She was passed by four people, and then heard one of them call her a fag. Beck was then punched, and knocked unconscious.

“I woke up to four guys kicking me. They did an entire judgment based off of how I looked, and I got attacked for it,” said Beck. “That’s not American. Why did that happen? It is heartbreaking that this is going on. This is what I defended for 20 years, and we can’t let this happen. I deserve that dignity and respect because that is what our country is about.”

While in Afghanistan, Beck said they were going after a major enemy target. When Beck and her team entered the compound, they found their target, but right in the middle of the chaos was a baby crying.

“I put my gun aside, grabbed the kid and tried to keep him alive. That’s the stuff I did,” said Beck. “We protect the innocent and do everything we can to make it right.”

Relating her incident to the fight against transgender discrimination, Beck challenged the audience. “You are going to hear someone telling a joke, or see bigotry, and it’s not a giant thing like saving a kid in a firefight, but the little changes mean so much. That is what I’m doing talking about making our country better, because I don’t want future generations getting punched in the back of the head or getting verbally abused.”

Reminding the audience that everyone comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors, society needs to work toward ending the labels they give people. “I want to be known as a human being, not as a member of the LGBT community,” said Beck. “We keep labeling and dividing, so that it’s easy to classify us so we know where we are coming from, but I am Kristin, and that’s what it is all about.”

Maj. Steven Oliver attended the presentation, saying as a squad commander, he knows he needs to treat everyone equally. “In my heart, that’s something I have always wanted to do anyway, and Beck touched that on a deeper level,” said Oliver. “I learned it’s not about the outer self, but achieving a level of happiness.”

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