Mary Ann Murdock retired from the Army with 24 years of service and a secret that could’ve cost her everything.
“I wasn’t selling secrets to the enemy. I wasn’t stealing anything from anybody, doing drugs, gambling or anything like that,” she said. “My secret was I was disguised as a man,” she said.
The shame of having to hide led him into deep despair. One dark night in Afghanistan, he held an Army-issued pistol and magazine in his hand and thought, “Right here is my answer.” Difficult conversations and gallons of tears have since brought her to what she calls a place of joy.
“If I can share the things that helped me get here and celebrate people like you here in this room who helped me get where I am today… I’m free,” she said during a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month event at the McNamara Headquarters Complex June 19.
Murdock, who now works in the Veterans Benefits Administration, helped revise seven Army regulations upon the 2010 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as a policy chief at the Pentagon. She retired from the Army in 2012, and in August 2016, she officially made her transition from man to woman. She instantly felt an alignment between her inner identity and the one she presented to others.
“When I came out and fully transitioned, I was able to stop taking medications for depression and an ulcer. My blood pressure returned to normal. I stopped having anxiety attacks, and my insomnia greatly improved,” she said. “I became my true self.”
LGBT Pride Month should be a year-round conversation, not a once-a-year event, she said, noting that the conversation began June 28, 1969, during riots between police and gay rights activists at the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan, New York City. Though groups that advocated for gay rights existed then, the riots became a catalyst for new groups that were more visible and took a more confrontational stance.
In 1978, artist Gilbert Baker designed the rainbow flag that has become the symbol of LGBT pride and activism. It’s a symbol of diversity, Murdock said.
“Its infinite gradations of colors all work together to form a thing of great beauty. Any one of them by itself would be just a stripe, but instead, it’s inclusive,” she said, calling the flag a sign of hope.
Research shows factors like genetics, hormones, neurological wiring and physiology affect one’s gender identity. Studies also indicate about 40% of transgender people have attempted suicide, though Murdock said the number is almost 100% among her trans friends and acquaintances. And each year about two dozen transgender individuals are murdered simply for being trans, she said. Despite statistics and some dissention and disagreement among the LGBT community, it gets stronger every day, she continued.
“The community is inclusive. I didn’t ask to be part of this community; I didn’t ask for this journey. But the people I’ve met are so wonderful. They’ve been caring and react to adversity with strength and humor,” she said.
Murdock encouraged employees to continue celebrating LGBT Pride and diversity after the observance ends.
“Grab hold of the rainbow, enjoy the celebration and show your pride,” she concluded.