A retired U.S. Navy SEAL who was the first member of the elite fighting force to come out as trans is calling out President Donald Trump for his decision to ban transgender people from serving in the military.
“Let’s meet face to face and you tell me I’m not worthy,” Retired Senior Chief Petty Officer Kristin Beck told Business Insider. “Transgender doesn’t matter. Do your service. Being transgender doesn’t affect anyone else. We are liberty’s light. If you can’t defend that for everyone that’s an American citizen, that’s not right.”
Trump announced the policy change in a series of tweets Wednesday morning.
“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow….Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” Trump tweeted. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you.”
Details about the ban, including when it will take effect, have not been released. The Pentagon has referred questions about the change to the White House.
There are about 2,450 transgender people serving in the active duty military, according to a study by The Rand Corporation. The Obama administration announced a year ago that transgender people would be allowed to serve, giving a year for evaluation of the policy.
Here’s what you need to know about Kristin Beck:
1. Beck Attended the Virginia Military Institute Before Joining the Navy SEALs Because They’re ‘the Toughest of the Tough’
Kristin Beck, 51, was born in Pennsylvania and grew up on a small farm, according to the Washington Post. She attended a Christian school and then went on to the Virginia Military Institute, graduating in 1988 with a degree in electrical engineering.
Beck enlisted in the Navy in 1990 and became a SEAL. She told CNN she joined the elite fighting group because they are the “toughest of the tough.”
Beck received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star with valor, along with about 50 other medals, during her 20-year career in the Navy, according to the Washington Post. She deployed 13 times, including to Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia and Africa, and was part of the elite SEAL Team 6.
Beck told the BBC she has the support of her former teammates.
“A lot of them said ‘Kris – I really don’t understand what you’re going through but I know where you’ve been,'” she told the BBC. “My Seal team brothers said, ‘you stood the watch in the field for 20 years and you did a great job. I don’t understand it one bit but I support you 100% and I hope I can learn more about this and see you at the next reunion.'”
2. Beck Began Transitioning After Retiring From the Military in 2011 & Came Out Publicly in 2013
Beck began transitioning after retiring from the military in 2011. She then came out publicly in 2013, posting a photo as a woman on Linkedin and then giving interviews to the media.
“I want to have my life,” she told CNN in 2014. “I fought for 20 years for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I want some happiness.”
She co-authored a book, Warrior Princess, with Anne Speckhard, published in June 2013, about her journey.
“I was trying to live three lives,” Beck told the BBC. “I had a secret life with my female identity, I had my secret life with the Seal teams and then I had my home life and what I would show my wife and children or parents and friends.People would see snippets of the real me but for the most part nobody really got to know me.”
She told the BBC the book has helped change minds and save the lives of other trans people:
I think I’ve saved some lives. I’ve had some heart-wrenching emails from people who are caught up in pain and prejudice and that does make it worthwhile. I’ve also had emails from straight men who have said ‘thank you for your service for our country. I never understood what this was but now I do.’ Fear of the unknown is the biggest problem and I think reading my book has helped break down that fear for many people. I’m not going to hurt anyone and I’m not contagious. I’m just me.
Her story was also the subject of a CNN documentary, Lady Valor.
“I went basically from being a Navy SEAL with all those medals, suit and tie, the bearded hero Conan guy, to walking in with a dress on and long hair,” she told NBC in 2015. “Some people thought they missed a party!”
Beck still sees herself as the same person she was in the Navy, she told NBC.
“I see a fighter. I see a patriot,” she said.
3. She Ran for Congress in 2016, Finishing in Second in the Democratic Primary in Maryland’s 5th District
Beck ran for Congress in 2016 in Maryland’s 5th Congressional District.
“I will only represent YOU while serving in Congress. I will not pander to or work with lobbyists or organizations that do not work tirelessly to improve the quality of life for you, your children or your children’s children,” she wrote on Linkedin about her campaign.
She received 12 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary, finishing in second to incumbent Rep. Steny Hoyer, according to Ballotpedia.
“I’m gonna keep on fighting because this is where I need to be,” Beck told NBC. “We need patriots. We need veterans. I have no strings attached and no fear at all.”
4. She Applied for a Job in the Trump Administration After His Election Victory,
but Never Heard Back
Beck, who was critical of Trump during his campaign, applied for a job in the Trump administration, saying she wanted to raise awareness for trans and veterans issues, Military.com reported.
“I’ll carry their coffee if that’s what they want — just so I’m there, just so I’m visible and I exist, and so they see a veteran who is going through life who maybe they don’t understand,” she told Military.com. “Maybe with that understanding, they can build some compassion and they’ll understand what liberty means to me.”
Beck told Military.com she saw her fight for the ability of trans people to serve as a fight for liberty.
“I served my country; I fought for life, liberty and happiness; and I’m not allowed to have it myself,” she said. “This is my country waving a flag and talking about liberty. We talk about liberty, liberty, liberty. And I keep saying, ‘This is my individual liberty.'”
She told Military.com she never heard back from the administration after applying on GreatAgain.gov.
After Trump’s announcement of the ban on transgender people in the military, Beck told TampaBay.com she thinks barring them will cost more in lawsuits than the savings Trump touted in medical and other costs. She said she estimates there are 75,000 to 150,000 transgender personnel in uniform.
“It is a matter of leadership,” Beck told the news site. “As a leader, I could take a Muslim and a bible-thumping Christian and have them work together with no problems. They would serve with honor together and do a great job.”
She said the decision by Trump disrupts the efforts to integrate trans people into the military.
“There was a lot of work to try and make this happen,” she said. “A lot of good leaders were working to make sure there was no effect to morale or readiness or combat effectiveness.”
5. Beck Is Married & Has 2 Kids From a Previous Relationship
Kristin Beck has been married to Heather Stott Beck, who served in the Air Force, since 2015. They live in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, and run Valor Ranch LLC, raising Angus cattle and chicken, according to her Linkedin profile.
She also is a public speaker and previously worked as a human rights activist for the Military Freedom Coalition.
Beck has two children from a previous marriage.
“I was just trying to fit in to the stereotype American dream, exactly what my parents and everyone expected of me,” she told CNN. “I met someone who’s — who’s awesome, you know, we got along good.”
She told CNN, “It took me a long time to get to this point where I’m comfortable living in my own skin. I’m very comfortable living the way I’m living right now, because it’s natural to me now, and I’ve never had that.”