From where she was standing on the grassy field of Chase Field in Phoenix, Kristyn Weed looked up at the thousands of baseball fans there to watch the Arizona Diamondbacks play on the Fourth of July. She held with her a huge blue key, a symbol of the gift she had received from the national non-profit organization Operation Homefront and their sponsors – a mortgage-free home in Tucson.
Kristyn beamed as she received the key. She stood up and was celebrated, living her life freely and openly as a transgender woman, after several years of self-discovery and journeying to where she is now. The home from Operation Homefront would go a long way toward supporting her in her continued efforts to live honestly and fully while helping her friends, family members, and others understand what it means to be transgender – and the many ways that transgender people face discrimination, with no statewide protections in so much of our country, including Arizona.
Kristyn was being recognized at the Diamondbacks game for her selfless service in the United States military. She enlisted in the Army in 1975 and served as a paratrooper and radio and communications specialist with the rank of sergeant. She’s served in Germany, England, and Norway, and in 1990 she medically retired with an honorable discharge.
She recognized from a young age that she was transgender: “I knew at the age of four or five that I was a girl,” Kristyn explained. “But that was the 1950s – I couldn’t say a word to anyone. It was just who I was, and I had to deal with it.”
“I was almost 22 when I went into the service during the Vietnam War,” she said. “I figured that I would go into service and do everything I could to get the girl out of me. Of course, that didn’t work.”
She ascribes a lot of her confidence to her time in the military. “To be working with some of the best trained soldiers in the world was amazing,” she said. “I was a dumb private being trained by Green Berets, and that training – and the leadership and accomplishment that came with that – has stayed with me throughout my entire career.”
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Her Army responsibilities sparked in her a deep passion for radio communications, as much of her work involved operating radios. After her service she became fascinated by the tools, exploring amateur ham radios.
She explored this interest deeper while on the road as a truck driver. And during that time, she also found it possible to explore life as a woman, the woman she had known herself to be inside for so long.
“I worked so many damn hours as a truck driver, doing the cross-country long haul for 10 or 12 years,” she said. “I worked for myself – so I was able to dress and live as a woman on the road, and that was simply amazing.”
She eventually became very invested in the community, and for several years she ran a major HAM radio convention, Quartzfest, which is now one of the largest amateur radio gatherings for campers and RVers in the world. As the head of the 8-day convention, Kristyn coordinated thousands of dollars and many vendors and manufacturers who came together to share this interest and talk shop in Quartzsite, Arizona.
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Kristyn at last felt like she could fully be herself, come out as transgender, and live as a woman full-time about five years ago. At that time, she began having conversations with many of the manufacturers she worked with for many years as the leader of the convention. The community is a bit conservative – but as Kristyn came out as transgender to so many of them, she was again and again accepted for being who is she is.
“I got total support from everyone,” she remembered. “What I got from most people was, ‘Good for you,’ or ‘I’m proud of you for being who you are.’ I had proven myself to them as a human being. One national sales manager said that for what I did for the HAM radio, he and his company would never pull their support for my convention.”
Her coming out coincided with another convention, during which she was on the radio three times a day, providing guidance and leadership for the rest of the attendees. She said she was respected and accepted throughout it all.
“The first three years I ran the convention, I ran it as Steve,” she said. “And the last two years all of the attendees got to meet and get to know Kristyn.”
When she returned from the convention, she sent around an eight-page letter that she posted on Facebook and sent to all of her other friends and family members.
“I said, ‘I’m a transgender woman, and next time you see me, this will be who I am’ – I showed them a photo of me as a woman – ‘and I hope you’ll accept me.'” She wrote:
“This is how I have internally experienced myself my entire life: From some of my earliest conscious memories, to this very moment my gender identity has been consistent within myself. I was not made this way by an event, or a person. Nor did I wake up one day and decide that maybe it would be more fun, more exciting, or more interesting to be a girl. I already was one. One does not decide their gender identity; it just is. All one needs to do is look inside themselves to see this is empirically true.
Writing it this way (in just one paragraph) oversimplifies what has been something that I’ve experienced and internally fought against my whole life. Undoubtedly this revelation will come as a surprise to many people who are reading this. I also know how hard it is to understand this, after all, God knows how much energy it took for me to come to terms with it myself.”
She closed her letter with advice – and a request to the people she shared with:
“The positive thing for Transgender people who transition is that they are now being true to themselves. They have the strength to tell you who they are. They have the strength to live a life that they’ve kept hidden, for most, over half a century. Please be their Support network, be their friends and be their family and love them as you always have. YOU are who we depend on…”
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Kristyn said she hasn’t experienced much of the discrimination that many other transgender people have – but she has heard terrible horror stories that underline exactly why a nationwide conversation about who transgender people are – and why they must be fully protected from discrimination.
One friend was terminated from a job after her transition in spite of receiving rave reviews and evaluations, and her sudden lack of income nearly caused her to lose her home.
And she has seen and organized opposition to anti-LGBT legislation proposed by Arizona lawmakers. In 2013, one legislator tried to advance an anti-transgender bill that would have restricted transgender people from using the restroom.
“Frankly, that pissed me off,” Kristyn said. “To try to pass a bill that would make me less than human? That was terrible. I wrote to my lawmaker, and I tried to explain that under this bill, here were my choices: ‘If I use a men’s room, I’d get beat up or killed because I look like a woman. If I use a women’s room, I’d break the law. And if I sit in my vehicle and relieve myself in a jar and someone sees me, I get charged with indecent exposure, which is a sex crime, and I’d have to be registered as a sex offender for the rest of my life.’ What was I supposed to do?”
She is excited at the sense that momentum is building for LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination protections in Arizona – and across the country – as more and more people grow to understand the importance of ensuring that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have a fair shot.
If the nation embraced and passed comprehensive LGBT-inclusive protections, she said, “It would make me feel whole – like you really are important, not just to your community but to the entire state and to the country as well. I am a woman just like any other woman – I live every day of my life as a woman. We’re human beings. We’re real people. We have real feelings.”
She is involved in Arizona with efforts to advance LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination – but even with advancements at the local or state level, Kristyn knows that we need to keep pushing beyond that.
“Non-discrimination laws don’t just need to be here in Tucson,” she said. They need to be all across the state. There’s no reason anyone should have to fear losing their home or losing their job. I would love to see the entire country under positive protections. Right now it’s just not equal protection under the law.”