COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Serving in the military was always the path for Captain Alivia Stehlik.
“I joined the military because my dad was in the military really,” said Stehlik.
She enlisted in 2008 as she enrolled in West Point Military Academy. She graduated and became an Army Ranger, joining the most skilled solders in the U.S Army.
In 2016 she took a big step forward.
The step was not necessarily a professional one, but most certainly a personal one. But in the military, it became both.
Stehlik came out as transgender to her superiors.
“What you often hear are horror stories,” said Stehlik, “I was nervous. I just didn’t know what it was going to be like.”
She says her worst fears were left as just that. Her worries of isolation, ridicule and shame never became a reality.
Instead, what greeted her was an openness she had not expected.
“I can’t think of a single instance where anything has gone poorly or my being trans has had any effect other than allowing people to just speak freely,” said Stehlik, “People have shared stories that I don’t think I ever would have heard before transition. I don’t think people would have ever admitted the pain they were in. I don’t think they would have admitted the difficult things that have happened to them. I think transition has uniquely changed that and significantly for the positive.”
Stehlik began her transition to a female in 2017. The same year President Donald Trump announced via Twitter a ban on transgender service members. The ban allows people to serve only in accordance with their gender at birth.
The Department of Defense estimates 15,000 transgender people are currently in the military.
“We’ve made progress, but it’s been slow.” said Stehlik in a speech to fellow service members on Monday. “We may not be rioting today, but we’re still fighting for our right to exist.”
She was chosen to speak to her comrades as part of a larger observance of LGBT Pride month, and the history of LGBT people who have served and made notable contributions to the military or the LGBT community.
Stehlik says, not only did her transition make other soldiers more open to her, she noticed more about the other soldiers around her.
“The more I become aware of my own status as a small minority, the more I become aware of how other people’s minority statuses effects their lives as well.”
One of her biggest concerns during her transition was the inherent physical nature of her job. Being a physical therapist is a literal hands-on job, but Stehlik says not once has anyone felt uncomfortable with her work.
She says it’s a relief to be who she really is in the career that she loves. She hopes her public approach to her personal life will help whomever comes after her.
“Most of the time, I don’t think I’m doing that much. But just existing as a trans woman in the military seems to be something I can do to pave the way for the next generation.”