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LHS Alum and Navy vet receives Tillman Foundation Scholarship

 Longmont-born Katie Bean is part of the Pat Tillman Foundation’s 2021 Class of Scholars. 
Longmont-born Katie Bean is one of 60 Tillman Foundation Scholars for 2021

 Longmont-born Katie Bean is part of the Pat Tillman Foundation’s 2021 Class of Scholars. 

The Pat Tillman Foundation, or PTF, gives out scholarships to U.S. service members, veterans and military spouses in recognition of their service and leadership potential. 

PTF was created to honor the legacy of NFL football player and U..S Army veteran Pat Tillman, who left his football career with the Arizona Cardinals for military service after the attacks on September 11, 2001. Tillman lost his life to accidental friendly fire in 2004 during a tour in Afghanistan. The foundation honors Tillman’s legacy of service, scholarship, humble leadership and community impact.

"Every year I'm inspired by the stories and experiences of the people who make up the newest class of Tillman Scholars," said Marie Tillman, Board Chair and Co-Founder of PTF. "This year, we are honored to support them as they make an impact in human rights, public policy, healthcare, tech and so much more. Most of all, these remarkable people exemplify the values and leadership that Pat lived by."

Bean is one of 60 Tillman Scholars and they are currently pursuing a degree in biology at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.

Bean, pronouns they and them, grew up in Longmont and graduated from Longmont High School in 2011. They attended University of Colorado Boulder for an undergrad degree in Literature, but dropped out to serve in the U.S. Navy before finishing their degree.

Bean said between deployment in the Navy and studies for a medical degree, they haven’t had much of a chance to visit and come back to Longmont. 

“I miss the mountains and views of the Front Range, I miss McIntosh Lake,” Bean said. “And of course I miss my family too.”

Bean said they were looking for a way to leave the military to pursue new avenues for their own education and the Tillman foundation provided a great opportunity to connect with a new group of people.

“I heard about the scholarship from a podcast that featured a veteran,” Bean said. “She was working on her doctorate, was married with kids and wanted to leave the military. The Tillman Foundation made it possible for her to leave the military and pursue her education.”

Bean, who identifies as nonbinary, became aware of the disparities in health care experienced by transgender and nonbinary during their military career. Bean started to navigate their gender identity just before the Obama administration repealed the ban on transgender in military service.

“I didn’t have the language to identify as nonbinary when I joined the military. I think it really depends on who you’re around and leadership certainly matters,” Bean said. “There was definitely a shift in how people act, depending on where the Commander-in-Chief stands and what the political climate is like.”

Bean had been unsure what level of support they would receive in the military if they came out, but the repeal of the transgender service ban opened things up for them.

“Once the Obama administration made that announcement, people started having these conversations. I saw a lot of people around me being really supportive and open to learning,” Bean said. “That changed my perspective. Coming into the military, I didn’t think as many people would be open to that.”

Bean acknowledged being frustrated with the situation too, thinking about how quickly the climate can shift around acceptance.

“I know what it’s like to be in that position where you don’t feel safe to come out about how I identify,” Bean said. “I don’t want to be made to feel like I need to closet myself. As a veteran, I know I wasn’t the only one and there are still people serving in the military that maybe feel fearful and unsafe coming out as transgender or nonbinary.”

Bean is grateful for the support they’ve had from family, friends and military leaders in their journey to come out as nonbinary.

“I didn’t even know what Pride was when I was growing up,” Bean said. “I had no idea that there was this huge community. But I’ve had a really positive trajectory since I came out.”

Bean is in their third year at Northwestern pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in biology. Once they graduate, they plan on attending medical school. The issues surrounding healthcare for transgender and nonbinary, particulary under the Trump administration, became a driving force for their current path.

“Working in healthcare in the Navy, I had this experience with a trans dependent of an active duty sailor,” Bean said. “Trying to figure out what policies we were supposed to follow, and what direction we could point the patient in to get them the right care was the impetus for me to do more.”

“I’ve had a very fortunate and positive story, I’m very lucky but I want to be able to do more for other people, especially when it comes to healthcare for all trans, nonbinary and LGBTQ people,” Bean said. “There are massive healthcare disparities experienced by the LGBTQ population, particularly in the military.”

Bean pointed toward the recent efforts by the Biden administration for trans health care, identity affirmation and Veteran’s Affairs support for gender confirmation surgeries as a step in the right direction.

“That’s amazing and I’m definitely celebrating that, but there’s a lot of work to be done even just with cultural competency with LGBTQ patients,” Bean said.

Bean said being honored by the Tillman Foundation included a vetting process for their values and actions that they take in their careers and education. Bean recognized the rarity and value of being a part of the Tillman Scholar Class of 2021, in connecting with honorable people that can embrace differing perspectives while still pursuing their own goals.

“What those values all mean to me in my mission to make my community better is an opportunity to connect with other people in the class that maybe share those values but offer a different point of view,” Bean said. “That means we see things differently, but have very open discussions and challenge each other without being defensive.”

Bean was optimistic about their future, and hopeful for the impact they can have on the future of LGBTQ in healthcare. Still, they recognized the importance of their past and home community.

“I’m grateful for where I came from and the community that I had growing up,” Bean said. “My roots in Longmont really informed a lot of the values I carry today about courtesy and respect to others, and I hope I can carry them on in this larger mission. I’m thankful for that, and I’m thankful for the Tillman Foundation for seeing me.”