May 14, 2014 -- Kristin Beck, a transgender former U.S. Navy SEAL, said that it was “awesome” that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the military should “continually” review its policy towards the transgender community, but Beck likened the process of trans-integration in the military to going through puberty: with a lot of difficult questions and awkward moments ahead.
“At least it’s being talked about,” Beck told ABC News Tuesday. “It’s a pretty huge step that we’re even taking really hard looks at it… The military right now is going through growing pains.”
Kristin Beck, formerly named Chris, served as a SEAL for two decades in some of the most dangerous places in the world before leaving the service and later coming out publicly as a woman nearly a year ago. Since, Beck has been appearing before leaders in the military and intelligence community to speak on behalf of the transgender community.
She welcomed Hagel’s comments Sunday to ABC News’ Martha Raddatz on “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” when Hagel said he believed the military’s policy towards transgender individuals “continually should be reviewed.”
“I’m open to that,” Hagel said. “I’m open to the assessments, because – again, I go back to the bottom line – every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it.”
Hagel noted the transgender question was an area the military has “not defined enough.”
After the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the policy barring gay and lesbian service members from being open about their sexual orientation, activists next took aim at the ban on openly transgender individuals from serving in the military. In 2011, a National Transgender Discrimination Survey estimated some 15,000 transgender people serve.
Beck told ABC News she shares Hagel’s views that any qualified individual should be able to serve, even in the SEALs as long as they can make it through the legendarily difficult training.
“The qualifications are there, the standards are there, leave those standards alone,” she said. “If someone can meet the qualifications, that’s fine, come on, you’re on the team… How can they look at me and what I’ve done and try to push us under the rug and say we’re not worthy?”
But while Beck supported Hagel’s comments, she called on the Defense Secretary to go further by immediately ordering that someone being open about being transgender would not be kicked out of the military.
“The order needs to come down saying this, on its own, is not a grounds for dismissal,” Beck said. “If they could do that one thing right now… Because there’s a lot of soldiers out there that want to talk to somebody about this… At least as a first step, they could take that burden off everybody’s shoulders.”
Military code identifies “transsexualism” as a “psychosexual condition” that could be grounds for dismissal. The current medical term is “gender dysphoria.”
Beck, who is the subject of the documentary Lady of Valor, said she understands that beyond that order, further change in the military for transgender individuals will be a slow, difficult process that she agreed should involve intensive study and deliberate steps to ensure the proficiency of the military machine.
Hagel said that unlike Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, issues surrounding transgender individuals are more complicated and require “medical attention” that may not be available in some austere conditions.
“[The military] is basically going through puberty… Just like I did again at age 46,” Beck said, referring to the hormone therapy process she went through after coming out. “I had to experiment, had to figure things out and evolve as a person. I think the military’s going through the same thing.
“They’re going to need a little bit of time to adjust to this,” she said.
ABC News’ Susan Donaldson James contributed to this report.