Army Staff Sgt. Patricia King, a transgender woman, will be sitting in the House chamber for President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address with a message for her commander-in-chief—who doesn’t believe she should wear the uniform that she has for the past 18 years.
“If I had the opportunity to be the president’s staff [non-commissioned officer] for a while as it applies to transgender issues, I would tell him that the most important thing he can do is to get to know his transgender soldiers,” King told The Daily Beast by phone before boarding a flight to Washington, D.C.
“See Private Miller from rural Pennsylvania, he can fix anything, even with duct tape. See Private Vasquez, she’s been shooting rifles since she was 6-years-old and you can trust her with a rifle. See Martinez, he’s a transgender soldier, whose parents didn’t support him, but he absolutely loves this country and you can count on him no matter what…I would want President Trump to learn about these people.”
Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, invited King to the president’s address.
“Staff Sergeant Patricia King represents the best and bravest our nation has to offer,” said Kennedy in a press statement to The Daily Beast.
Kennedy will not be able to accompany King to the speech as he will give the Democratic response after the president’s delivered remarks.
“As a member of the transgender community, I'm concerned...and I do believe that visibility has the ability to give people hope for the future,” King said. “We are working towards transgender equality and that that day will come.”
King first joined the U.S. Army back in 1999 at age 18. Two years later, she was be sitting in the common area of the 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, N.Y. when the 9/11 attacks unfolded and sent her to war.
King deployed to Afghanistan on Christmas Day 2002, and two more times in 2003 and between 2013 and 2014. She earned the Bronze Star — the fourth highest award a soldier can receive from the U.S. — for meritorious service after a year of serving as a platoon sergeant and leader, taking no casualties and providing personal security for a two-star general.
King went on to have a family and two children, who are now 11 and 12.
She said she started to come out to her parents about transitioning in January 2015.
“My family was incredibly supportive, I’ve been so blessed with so much love and support,” King told The Daily Beast.
King also received the same type of support from her infantry unit, however, at the time, the Defense Department had not yet embraced the open integration of transgender troops.
“Fortunately it wasn't long after that Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that they were going to begin to study and look at opening transgender service,” said King.
Rep. Kennedy’s office assisted King in getting her gender-reassignment surgery package approved, which sat idle for 14-months.
“As a result, not only was my surgery approved, but the policy for transgender surgery was solidified and many more have been approved since then,” King said.
The Pentagon’s integration of transgender service members was reversed last year in a policy change announced by President Trump in a series of tweets when he had decided he would "not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military.”
Trump additionally called on the military to "discharge" transgender personnel and to halt funding of "sex reassignment surgical procedures."
Defence Secretary James Mattis said the Obama-era policy of transgender service would remain in place pending a review. Two months later in October 2017, a federal judge ruled against the ban amid a barrage of lawsuits against the Trump policy — the issue is still being pursued by the White House, but for now, transgender troops can openly serve within the ranks.
For King, attending the State of the Union address is not about protest, it's about inspiring a transgender service member that may be watching.
“When you go to Iraq or Afghanistan, you bring with you what you have. Those are the people on your left and right. Those are the people that you are going to count on for the next 12-months in some situations and they have to be people that you can count on...people like me,” King said.
“You know, this is not a job. This is who I am and I absolutely love this life.”