Retired Staff Sgt. Patricia King served three tours as an infantry soldier in Afghanistan — the first starting in 2001 “right after the towers fell,” during which she swept mountain caves in search of Taliban fighters.
But in 2015, after her final tour in that nation, there was one aspect of her life and service that she could no longer reconcile. She came out as transgender.
“I knew there was a chance I could be put out of the military,” she said during a recent phone interview. “But the most important thing to me was living an authentic life.”
“It was one of the best choices I’ve ever made to finally be honest with myself about who I was. I’ve had challenges, but I’ve never had any regrets.”
King, 39, retired in August after 20 years of service and is now a consultant, an LGBTQ advocate and a lobbyist for progressive issues. The Silver Spring, Md., resident will speak at Diversity Richmond on Monday during its first LGBTQ Veterans Day event, “Our Stories, Our Truth: An LGBTQ Veterans Day Celebration.”
Diversity Richmond is hosting the event along with Minority Veterans of America, Transgender Veteran Support Group-Virginia, the Military Kid Art Project and other organizations.
“The program will allow LGBT vets to share their journeys and offer a candid, honest conversation about their experiences,” said Bill Harrison, president and executive director of Diversity Richmond, which serves central Virginia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.
These are challenging times for the estimated 15,000-plus transgender service members on active duty. The administration of President Donald Trump has reinstated a ban on transgender service members that had been lifted during the administration of Barack Obama.
King said several cases to overturn the ban are headed toward the Supreme Court, even as lawmakers in Congress work to lift it legislatively.
“I’m incredibly proud of my service. I feel deeply honored at having the chance to serve,” King said. But she is concerned that the ban will hinder the nation’s all-volunteer military in meeting its recruiting goals, alienate a younger generation that cares about diversity and equal rights, and steer the best and the brightest away from the military.
Her message to active-duty transgender personnel is to tell them they are not alone, she said. “That we are here and working to fix this wrong.”