A transgender retired U.S. Navy SEAL hosts a charity fashion show for a Northern Virginia HIV/AIDS service organization in Falls Church on Saturday, July 20.
“HIV and AIDS is controllable, possibly curable,” Kristin Beck told the Washington Blade during an interview earlier on Friday at Ireland’s Four Provinces in downtown Falls Church alongside Hugo Delgado, executive director and co-founder of NOVASalud, Inc., the group behind the fashion show. “As long as they start being more careful and people start taking care of themselves and follow the health precautions, we could probably pretty much get rid of a lot of HIV/AIDS in the next couple of generations.”
Beck, who transitioned from a man into a woman after she retired from the Navy SEALs in 2011 following two decades with the special operations force, spoke with the Blade less than two months after she published her memoir titled “Warrior Princess: A U.S. Navy SEAL’s Journey to Coming Out Transgender.”
“I was a Navy SEAL for 20 years; I’ve been transgender for 47 years,” she said. “I’ve been transgender for my entire life.”
Beck, who was once member of the SEAL Team 6 that carried out the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan during which the terrorist mastermind was killed, noted to the Blade she would have been immediately discharged under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ if she had come out as a trans woman while on active duty. (Gay and lesbian servicemembers have been able to serve openly since DADT’s repeal took effect in 2010, but trans soldiers remain unable to do so.)
“I was afraid,” she said. “I wanted to keep my job. I liked my job. I enjoyed being a SEAL. I was proud of that.”
In spite of the aforementioned professional risk, Beck said the majority the SEALs with whom she served remain “very supportive” of her transition.
“They’re great people that I honor to this day,” Beck said.
Warrior for ‘our civil rights’
Beck went to high school with Jonathan Falwell, one of the late-Rev. Jerry Falwell’s two sons, in Lynchburg, Va. She attended the nearby Virginia Military Institute before enlisting in the military while living in Crystal City.
Beck said she decided to write her memoir, in part, because of the disproportionately high suicide rates among trans people.
“It’s a very sad community because we have so much prejudice and so much against us,” she told the Blade as she discussed her advocacy in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Beck said she has begun to lobby members of Congress to back bill. She noted she has also worked with Equality Florida, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center and other groups in support of ENDA.
“We can make it and we’re going to do good,” Beck said. “We’re equal and we’re still fighting. I’m the warrior right now for our civil rights.”
Beck further noted Virginia is among the more than 30 states without statewide trans-specific employment protections.
“This is the land of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” she said. “I don’t have liberty myself. I am not equal right now and that makes me a little bit angry. It should make all of us angry.”
Beck also discussed the need to curb anti-trans violence.
She told the Blade she continues to worry about someone whom she does not know attacking her because of her gender identity and expression.
“I’m in constant danger for people who are uninformed,” Beck said. “So if I can inform a few of those people to say hey look, I don’t want you to love me, I don’t want you like me… I don’t care, but I don’t want you to run over to me and punch me in the head because you see me wearing a dress.”
Beck, who lives outside Tampa, Fla., has two teenage sons with her ex-wife who now resides in Minnesota. She said they are “fairly open” to her new gender identity and expression.
“It makes me proud of them that they can look beyond a lot of things and they are accepting of something,” Beck said.
Beck to ‘bring an awareness’ of area trans residents
Delgado told the Blade his organization’s fashion show – and Beck’s participation in it – is part of his group’s ongoing commitment to provide HIV/AIDS education and testing and linking those who live with the virus in Northern Virginia to care.
“There’s a big need, especially for the LGBT community,” he said. “In this project we try to break the stigma, discrimination and prejudice. Plus we want to present to the community this [the trans community] is a beautiful community that we need to take care of.”
Trans Sisters Informing Sisters on Topics about AIDS (TSISTA,) a NOVASalud program, will also take part in the fashion show.
“Having Kristin join forces with NOVASalud, Inc., and TSISTA will bring an awareness to the Northern Virginia community about our beautiful transgender community,” Gaby García, a NOVASalud health educator for TSISTA, said.