Transgender veteran's message goes viral

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ANTIOCH, Tenn. (WVLT) -- A transgender veteran originally from East Tennessee posted a selfie that went viral and she hopes the message behind it spreads just as fast.

"Yes, I want people to be able to say what they feel without any fear of repercussion legally; however, I don't want people to interfere with how I live my life," said Carla Lewis, a transgender Veteran.

Carla Lewis posted a photo on Facebook that said, "Transgender Veteran: I fought for your right to hate me."

"When I say I'm a transgender veteran and I fought for your right to hate me, I don't just mean while I'm in service," said Lewis. "I mean even now, I try to uphold the First Amendment and I try to make sure people get full access to their constitutional rights."

Less than a week later, it's gone viral with over 15,000 shares on Facebook.

Before making the transition, Lewis joined the Air Force in 1990 and worked for Space Command.

"I had to go through a background investigation to get my top secret clearance and it was during that investigation that they discovered I had seen a counselor for gender identity issues and they started the discharge at that time," said Lewis.

They diagnosed her with gender identity disorder.

"Even more importantly, I was married at the time and had two kids to provide for," said Lewis. "I had to go face my family when I got discharged and had to go home two years early."

It wasn't until nine years later she went through the transition.

Lewis told Local 8 News serving while knowing in her heart she was in the wrong body was hard. She had a friend who made the transition while serving.

"Promotions stopped, she stopped getting good assignments, and she feels like they are treating her unfairly," said Lewis. "I assume that will continue."

She said it doesn't matter who you are -- if you've served our country, you're courage and sacrifice has given others' freedom.

"If they're transgender and they get discharged, that should not diminish their original sacrifice because there was a point in time when they were willing to give their life if necessary for their country," said Lewis.