Kristin Beck, born Christopher Beck is known to be the first female Navy SEAL. She was first interviewed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper in June of 2013 and quickly became known throughout the world. Soon after, she became a civil rights activist giving speeches nation-wide. Beck is the subject of the upcoming CNN documentary film, Lady Valor, which will be broadcast on Saturday, September 6th and be available on multiple CNN platforms.
Beck distinguished herself in 20 years of exceptionally meritorious service with Special Operations Forces in the SEAL teams and served on SEAL Teams #1, #5, #6. She conducted special operations with small UAVs, HUMINT, and Direct Action missions in her thirteen deployments. Final tours were with Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU) or SEAL Team #6 to head the Special Reconnaissance units and various Task Forces as a source handler and technical operations director. Beck has received the Bronze Star with a “V” for Valor and a Purple Heart during combat operations.
She has prepared and briefed position papers on Special Operations Forces- unique technology for State Department and White House approvals. As a result of these outstanding achievements, Kristin Beck received the coveted NDIA 2010 Special Operations Award. Now a civil rights activist, she gives speeches and lectures at various events around the country. Kristin was a key voice in the Congressional Bill to end discrimination toward the LGBT Community. Beck offers services in consulting, law enforcement training, motivational speeches, innovation collaborations, as well as creating many types of art and original works.
CNN is premiering its documentary film, Lady Valor, this week after having its festival premiere at SXSW. Below is Part II of our interview with Kristin Beck and talks about politics, activism, her PTSD art therapy work and what life is really like in the public eye. To read Part I of our interview, click here.
Jennifer Williams: Could I ask you some political questions? I know you said that you are a bit to the Right within the LGBT Community. Would you say that your ideological world view is more Republican than Democrat or is it spread out on both sides?
Kristin Beck: I don’t know. There are a lot of things about the Republican Party that I appreciate. There are also a lot of things about the Democrats that I could appreciate. I can’t really see myself being totally aligned on one side or the other. I do know in the past, that with the voting records for the Republican Party on LGBT people, I can’t agree with the Republican Party on anything. That is where I get sidetracked with the Republican Party.
Jennifer Williams: Are your dealings in D.C. helping change that perspective at all?
Kristin Beck: I think it’ll definitely help. I would like to sit down with some Party leaders. If I could, I would remind them that they are half of the country. Fifty-percent of the country votes Republican and fifty percent vote Democrat. I’d say, “Guys… you can’t be this bad. You’re not representing the entire country. The Republicans can’t hate the Democrats this much and the Democrats can’t hate the Republicans that much.
Jennifer Williams: Do you have any Republicans reaching out to you or behind the scenes saying “I support you”?
Kristin Beck: I think they are a little scared of me. I think both Parties have to have more respect for each other. No matter how much I disagree with some of the policies that get put forth by the Democrats, I still respect them as Americans. We need to find out where we are similar, not just different and then come to conclusions and compromises. The problem with American politics right now is that everybody thinks that compromise is a weakness. Compromise is not a weakness. Compromise is a strength. It is means that you are working out your differences, see where your similarities are and come to an agreement to make something work!
Jennifer Williams: Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill did it.
Kristin Beck: Compromise is not weakness. That is why you do that. I identify a lot with Libertarians. There are a lot of things with those guys that I like. But I can’t see them winning any major race in the future. I don’t know. If I had to choose… I’d probably vote Democrat even though I’m really far over to the other side on [a number] of things. I don’t know. I’d be a very Right-wing for the Democrats. The Republicans right now are voting me out of existence. They want me gone! That’s not right. It’s not the American way. They need to wake up.
Jennifer Williams: Well, are you getting full support from the Democratic side or is that support… middling? Like they are only just a little bit better than the Republicans regarding your efforts?
Kristin Beck: I think that both Parties are kind of on the fence. I think that the people in both Parties hear what I say and they look at me and say, “Wow. Which side of this should I stand on?” We don’t know if we want to shake Kristin’s hand or… if we want to fight her!” I think it is one of those things where, they don’t know where I am. I’m not a loose cannon. I’m not trying to run for political office right now. I’m still in the learning phase.
I really have a lot of learning to do and I really want to take my time. Eventually, I think in maybe a year or two… I’ll start dipping my toe into politics on a local level. Especially after this film comes out and I have more time on my hands. [I want] to do what I can to learn the system and figure out a lot of things I know that are lacking right now. Lacking in a lot of the social programs, in the local community organizations and I want to dig in and learn what’s going on. I have a year to do some grassroots and community organization and really dig in and run for office.
Kristin Beck: I want to get rid of my Facebook account because I get too many people who are… I get all kinds of death threats from haters.
Jennifer Williams: Wouldn’t it be kind of stupid to make a death threat on a Navy SEAL?
Kristin Beck: I feel like Harvey Milk must have felt in those days with all the death threats he got and people hating him. That is how I feel right now. Like I am living in his shoes, fighting for this cause and at any moment someone is going to walk up behind me and put a bullet in my head. It definitely puts you on edge a little bit.
Jennifer Williams: Do you at least feel that you are getting more support from regular people than you expected or is it about what you expected?
Kristin Beck: From regular people, it is about fifty-fifty. Fifty percent are like rock on! Thumbs up! Fifty percent are like “huh?” I don’t take offense to it or when I get questions from people who ask me questions that aren’t really very nice. I just say, “Hey… that’s not really a good question to ask,” because people really don’t know… and there are words that are just derogatory. Because if you just say a word and you don’t know and think about what transgender is and you say one of those [derogatory] words that everybody is throwing around… my attitude is that, “man, you don’t know that that word is derogatory. You just said it because it is something you heard.”
It is like African Americans or Black people and the n-word. Everybody knows that the n-word is derogatory. It is been derogatory for over a hundred years. So it is obvious. If you are using that word, you are doing it for a reason. There are words that in the transgender community and we are such a hidden community… that people just don’t know about certain words. So I give people a break and just explain it to them. I tell them what the derogatory word means and that I’d really appreciate it if you wouldn’t say it. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred the person will say, “Oh, I didn’t know and I wouldn’t do that anymore.”
Jennifer Williams: Most people are just getting used to it, like same-sex marriage. Even though many may disagree with it, the writing seems to be on the wall that it is going to happen nationwide. A lot of folks on the Right may feel that the LGBT Movement is on overload right now and they are not sure what to do about it. It’s not always fair to them either because they disagree on some LGBT issues.
Kristin Beck: I’m just trying to give people the learning curve and so they can just figure it out. But there is going to come a point because transgender has been in the news quite a bit that in a few more months that there’s going to be enough out there that if you say something derogatory… you’ll just sound stupid. People will have had enough time to learn this from the news. There is no use for that now.
Jennifer Williams: How are your art projects coming along? I know you have a show coming up to support a group dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in veterans. Also, what are your future plans for it?
Kristin Beck: I’m working with the 296 Project and we have been having some gallery openings in Washington, D.C. We’ve sold out a few shows and I’m super-excited about that. The organizers can’t believe that it is sold out. I’ve sold a few pieces and have had some of them sell for around five-thousand dollars for a painting.
Jennifer Williams: That’s awesome! And so needed.
Kristin Beck: It’s been raising some really good money for the cause and with the money that 296 Project is raising… they are going to be able to bring some more art therapists in and give help to more guys who need it. They are going to go the Veterans Administration hospitals around the country, scout for people [they can help] and hand them sketch books, pencils, chalk, everything. So they are going to have a lot of stuff to hand out to veterans and try to motivate them to go into this type of therapy.
Jennifer Williams: Well, how did you get interested in becoming an artist or learn how to do it?
Kristin Beck: I went to college at Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and after VMI I went to Alfred University, which is world-renowned for ceramic art. I studied art at Alfred and got into painting and making pottery and sculptures. I have some of my painting and sculptures at the gallery at Alfred. I have a website that has a gallery with a lot of my art, www.ladyvalor.com.
Jennifer Williams: Some sectors of Media seem beholden to stereotypical ideas and images of transgender people cast on Jerry Springer and other TV shows… are you possibly the greatest challenge to those past ideas or beliefs due to your status of being a Navy SEAL and an Artist?
Kristin Beck: I’m not going to toot my own horn or jump around and say, “Look at me. Look at me!” But the fact is that I really am a great challenge to the Media because I don’t fall into the old stereotypes. They don’t work. Because transgender women and transgender men are in every walk of life. But the public sees us as entertainers, actresses, singers and in kind of a Liberal Arts media type of a thing. They see us as hairdressers or doing our nails or clothing or whatever, so when I popped up on their radar they said,” Whoa! A Navy SEAL, the toughest of the tough? That isn’t what they’re supposed to be doing.” So it makes all the stereotypes look kind of silly.
The Media likes to say that we’re all out in left field and that all we are is just actresses and prostitutes. We are a lot more. I was a Navy SEAL. I have a friend, Amanda, who is a nuclear engineer. I have other friends who fly airplanes and helicopters and we do all kinds of things. It is a very drastic step away from the stereotype idea that all transgender people are only actresses and prostitutes. It is shame that those are the only things they think we can be. We are definitely a lot more than that.
Jennifer Williams: So you’re becoming known or your public status has helped push the understanding that there are more types of transgender people than in popular imagination?
Kristin Beck: Well, I hope it brings a little bit of class to the situation. When the media came out, I said no to a lot of appearances on all kinds of shows. The only show I agreed to be on was Anderson Cooper. I try to stay out of the limelight and that is why for the last six months people haven’t really heard a lot about me. I have a job and I just go about my daily business. I don’t want to be a celebrity.
We made the documentary and I’ll probably start laying low again after it is broadcast on CNN. I’m going to just keep doing my job.
Jennifer Williams: How has the media attention helped your cause? How has “celebrity” affected what you are doing?
Kristin Beck: Well, I’m not a celebrity except to a small group of people. When they say, “Hey, I saw you on TV,” it doesn’t get to me. I did so much way bigger stuff when I was on the SEAL Teams. I was running $600,000,000 programs as a Manager and making day-to-day decisions. And when I was in combat, I led 30-40 people on huge operations with airplanes, UAVS, gunships and all kinds of stuff going on. Being on a TV show for a little bit is not that big of a deal.
There’s a lot of stuff that I am not on television [or in the media for], like the 296 Project. I’m an artist and I gave all my art to this PTSD and TBI-therapy organization. That is what I do when I am not on camera. My working on PTSD issues with other folks is just about bringing healing to other people. I give speeches at universities and I’ve gone to a few high schools to speak to kids who are also transgender. The stuff that I do off-camera means a whole lot more than the things I do on-camera.
“Lady Valor” premiered on CNN on Thursday, September 4th at 9 PM EST and will be rebroadcast multiple times on the network and its many platforms. To get more information on “Lady Valor,” please visit the CNN film’s website, www.ladyvalorfilm.com. You can find Kristin Beck on Twitter at @TheLadyValor.
- CNN’s Lady Valor Offers a SEAL With a New Mission (politisite.com)