ARUN RATH, HOST:
When discussing civil rights victories for LGBTQ Americans, it's important to remember not every letter represented in that term is advancing equally. Let's talk about that T, for transgender. While the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military ended in 2011, you can still be thrown out of the army for being transgender. A handful of people are trying to change that from the inside. Staff Sgt. Patricia King is a decorated soldier with three deployments to Afghanistan under her belt when she was known as Peter King. King enlisted back in 1999.
PATRICIA KING: I was very much in search of who I was. And so I decided - you know what? - this seems like the right kind of place to maybe - and this was back before I understood being transgender - so maybe man up a little bit and certainly just discover myself.
RATH: Did you realize that you were transgender while you were serving, or was it earlier than that?
KING: I started to realize that I was different when I was about 12 years old. I felt like maybe I was in the wrong body. So as I went through my time in the Army, yes, I knew that I was different, but it wasn't until much more recently that I understood what it was.
RATH: And when did you decide to start your transition?
KING: I can actually tell you the day. It was January 3, 2015. In December of 2014, I started to feel really strongly like transition was something I wanted. And so I put a lot of thought and a lot of prayer into it, and on January 3, that was the day that I came out to my parents and ultimately decided I was going to transition.
RATH: I have to imagine that was, even for somebody who's jumped out of an airplane a bunch of times like you have, I have to imagine that was kind of a scary moment.
KING: Actually, it's about the same as jumping out of an airplane.
KING: Because you stand at the door, and you have to make that first step. But once you've made it, you can't go back in.
RATH: You know, I think a lot of people are not aware that when the Pentagon changed its policy toward gays and lesbians in 2011, those changes did not extend towards people who are transgender. What exactly is the policy now?
KING: The current policy still states that you are not allowed to be openly transgender in the Army. And they find it to be a medical discharge and an administrative discharge at the same time. It's a little bit complicated. But what they've done recently is they've elevated the discharge authority to highest levels of the Army.
RATH: So that means that, say, like, a mid-level commander couldn't, say, throw you out. But are you in violation, still?
KING: Yes. They haven't rewritten the policy. So anybody who is transgender is technically not allowed to be in the military.
RATH: Does this mean that now that you are a woman, you are no longer combat eligible, or does the Army consider you a woman?
KING: At this point in time, the Army doesn't consider me to be a woman because we don't recognize transgender people. And when the policy does change, time will tell what it's going to look like and how that will affect my career.
RATH: How have things been in terms of the Army life in terms of reactions there with the people you work with?
KING: My support system at work has been absolutely amazing. You start by telling people that you are reasonably sure are going to be accepting. And from there, you move to the people that you question. And after that, you just kind of come out, and you just accept that I have a big enough support network that I can be myself. I've been embraced by commanders who have said, we support you and are proud of you, and we want you to be who you are; unfortunately, the rules say this.
RATH: Through this period, have your feelings about the Army changed at all?
KING: Absolutely not. I have always been incredibly proud of my service to my country, and I love serving in the Army. I'll stay as long as they'll have me. The difference is that now I'm equally proud of who I am.
RATH: That's Army staff sergeant Patricia King. Sergeant King, thank you very much for talking with us.
KING: Thank you so much, Arun. I had a great time.
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