Army Capt. Alivia Stehlik is a graduate of West Point and Army Ranger School, a former infantry platoon leader, a physical therapist and a veteran of the Afghan war. She’s also a proud transgender woman.
When Stehlik, 32, testified before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington in February, she wanted the committee to know one thing: Living openly as a transgender woman has not affected her ability to defend her country.
“Has my transition made soldiers uncomfortable? Absolutely not,” Stehlik told the subcommittee, which at the time was considering a ban on transgender troops that officially took effect in April.
Stehlik, an Army physical therapist stationed in Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, reiterated that sentiment during an interview with NBC News.
“I went to these remote outposts with the most alpha male types that our Army has, and they were thrilled to have me and invited me back, and the fact that I was trans, they didn’t care,” she said. “They just wanted me to be competent, and I was.”
When, in 2016, the military lifted its original ban on transgender troops, Stehlik was thrilled. She transitioned in May 2017, and has lived openly as a woman ever since.
But her enthusiasm would be short lived. In April, the Pentagon implemented the Trump administration’s new policy to ban transgender troops from serving openly in the military.
While the Defense Department has said the policy is not a ban, the policy states that transgender troops cannot enlist or serve if they live openly in their preferred gender, and are disqualified if they have received a diagnosis of gender dysphoria — the mismatch a trans person may feel between their gender identity and biological sex.
But soldiers like Stehlik, who transitioned before the policy took effect, are exempt from those rules.
“Why am I different?” Stehlik asked. “To me, it’s just clearly discriminatory.”
Stehlik spent a year as an infantry platoon leader in South Korea in 2009. She graduated from the Army’s physical therapy school in 2016, and deployed to Afghanistan from May 2018 to January 2019, where she provided physical therapy to combat soldiers.
She’s optimistic that the ban on trans military personnel will be lifted.
“I have zero doubt that one day this question will be settled and trans people will be a full and welcome part of the military community and of the world,” Stehlik said.
What does "pride" mean to you?
“More than anything right now, I think, to me, pride is a battlecry. It’s not a celebration. We’re not there yet. Things are better in our country than they used to be. If you look back 50 years at the Stonewall riots, we are far and away better than we were then, but this isn’t done.”
This year, we’re celebrating Stonewall 50 — the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall rebellion. Where would you like to see the LGBTQ community when we’re celebrating Stonewall 75?
“In an ideal world, we would be an equally welcomed part of society. There would be no division, there would be recognition that we just want to be like the rest of the world, like the rest of our society, that we all have equal value, and that we’re all equally as normal or equally as weird as anybody else. There isn’t discrimination happening, LGBTQ folks are welcome in all of our organizations, whether it’s military or civilian. There is an Equal Rights Act, we’re protected legally in a national way, not by a state-by-state basis for employment, housing and health care.”