Soldier honored to give 'visibility' to transgender rights
By CYNTHIA MCCORMICK | Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass. (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 31, 2018
Patricia King joined the military right after graduating from high school to become a soldier.
Along the way, she made history.
In 2015, King became the first infantryman in the U.S. Army to come out as transgender — which King said made her the first enlisted female member of the infantry.
Last year, King said, she became the first active-duty servicemember to have the military pay for gender reassignment surgery.
And Tuesday night, King — a veteran of multiple tours in Afghanistan who has risen to the rank of staff sergeant — attended President Donald Trump's State of the Union address at the invitation of U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III.
The chance to be an ambassador for the rights of transgender people is an honor, said King, 37, who is currently based at Fort Lewis in Washington.
"Visibility is something that is so vital for minority communities of any kind," King said. "First and foremost, transgender people are just people."
Her identity as a female started young, when she was just 8 years old, and became more intense on the cusp of puberty at age 12, King said.
"My gender was always something I struggled with," said King.
She said she enjoyed her high school years at Cape Tech, where she started out in child development and switched to information technology before graduating in 1999. She did not want to reveal what her name was as a student, saying that was in the past.
But although King attended meetings of the school's gay and lesbian alliance, she felt something was lacking.
"None of the things they talked about resonated with me," King said.
King figured joining the military would be a good opportunity to figure out who she was, with its traditionally masculine culture.
But a love of infantry life, which included jumping out of planes, was not incompatible with her identify as a female, King said.
When she came out as a transgender woman to her parents, Veronica and Kenneth King, in January 2015, they gave their wholehearted support.
"We love our child," said Veronica King, who now lives in Rhode Island with her husband. "We support her being who she is. I am a woman of faith, and I know God loves my daughter."
Patricia King said she never encountered hostility in the military, probably because her commanders got to know her as a soldier before she transitioned to a woman, through hormone treatments and surgeries, the last of which was in November.
Her ex-wife and two sons also are supportive, King said.
In July Trump tweeted plans to overturn an Obama-era policy calling for the Pentagon to accept transgender recruits and officer candidates.
"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," one of the president's tweets said.
The policy did not actually go into effect until the first of this month, after a federal court order overruled Trump's intention of banning transgender people from the military.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said the Pentagon will issue a new policy on transgender people in the military by Feb. 21.
"I imagine the new advisory will say the same thing the last one did," which is that transgender people are not a disruptive force in the military, King said.
For Kennedy, who is scheduled to deliver the Democrats' answer to the State of the Union from Diman Voc-Tech in Fall River, King is an example of how the quality of a person's service and not gender identity should be the guiding determinant in a military career.
"Staff Sgt. Patricia King represents the best and bravest our nation has to offer," Kennedy said in a press release. "For nearly two decades, she has valiantly served our country and defended not only our safety, but our values at home and abroad."
King said she will be escorted into the gallery of the U.S. Capitol by U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.
©2018 Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.
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