AUSTIN--Changing genders is a personal process for many transgender men and women. Gregory Abbink said he never planned to make his transition public, but he has seen the impact it's made through messages sent to him from around the world.

"I just assumed I would kind of fly under the radar and make a fairly seamless transition," Abbink said at the Human Rights Campaign Gala Saturday. "Boy was I in for a surprise."

Abbink is the first openly transgender Austin Police Officer. He joined the department in 2003 as Emily, and his transition to Gregory began in April 2014.

Saturday night, he received the Bettie Naylor Visibility Award for letting the world witness the progression. It is named after the late Austinite who is credited with being the first LGBT lobbyist in Texas.

"I discovered that, by simply sharing my story, I could shed light on the very real obstacles that we face and hopefully inspire people to open their hearts and their minds," Abbink said.

Violence against transgender men and women is still a major issue. Austin's first murder of 2016 is also the country's first known transgender murder of the year.

"Violence claimed yet another victim, as a transgender woman right here in Austin," Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said. "(She) was murdered outside her own home."

Austin Police originally identified Monica Loera, 43, as a man by her birth name of David Loera. However, social posts dating back two years showed Loera identified as a woman. Police have charged JonCasey William Rowell, 29, with first degree murder in connection to Loera's death.

Abbink wants to end violence against men and women like him and Loera.

"I will protect you; our department will protect you," Abbink said. "We will be there for you; we will provide you resources. We will fight for you and make sure that you are safe, encouraged and supported."

Abbink hopes his story brings light to an issue he said is often misunderstood.