March 01, 2007

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell"--Bad For GLBTs, Bad For the United States

These statistics from the Human Rights Council:

It is estimated that at least 65,000 lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans are currently serving in the U.S. Military.

More than 10,000 servicemenbers have been discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

This policy has cost a minimum of $191 million.

For those of you who aren't familiar with "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," it is the policy of the United States military to not inquire about a soldier's sexual orientation, and a gay soldier is required to keep it a secret. Once the military has evidence that a soldier is gay, they can be, and often are, discharged.

To illustrate the injustice and stupidity of this rule, the HRC sent out this letter from Eric Alva, the first soldier to be wounded in the Iraq. Since his discharge, Alva has made his homosexuality public and aided the cause of repealing DODT in his recent testimony before Congress.

On March 21, 2003, my life changed forever.

Three hours into the Iraq War, I was in charge of 11 U.S. Marines on a logistical convoy when I stepped on an Iraqi landmine outside my Humvee vehicle and became the first American wounded in the Iraq War. The explosion was so powerful it blew me to the ground ten feet away and took off part of my right leg. I can still remember the ringing in my ears from the blast.

I spent months in rehabilitation where I was visited by President Bush, First Lady Laura Bush and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. I was recognized by the military for my service and received a Purple Heart award. I was also interviewed by several major newspapers and magazines and I made numerous TV appearances, including on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Yet despite all the attention and focus on my life, today is the first time I have publicly talked about my sexuality in relation to my military service.

To be honest, each time I was commended on my courage, I couldn’t help but remember how scared I was that I would be found out as gay and kicked out of the military. I remember the fear I felt when people around me in the military started debating the new “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy even before it became law. Still, my proudest moments during my 13 years in the military came when I would confide in one of my friends about my sexual orientation and they would still treat me with the same respect as before.

Although I’m no longer wearing the uniform of the U.S. Marine Corp, my mission continues to be protecting the rights and freedoms of all Americans. So as I begin my first day as national spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign's efforts to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't tell," I'm excited to be joining Rep. Marty Meehan at a Capitol Hill press conference today to reintroduce the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, legislation to repeal this broken and discriminatory policy. I will also join hundreds of HRC members from across the country on Capitol Hill this week to meet with congressional leaders during the Human Rights Campaign lobby day.

Please, take action right now because my sacrifice was for the rights and freedoms of all our citizens and did not exclude GLBT Americans – especially the estimated 65,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans serving in the military who willingly and voluntarily risk their lives for our country.

You can click on this link to send a message to your congressman in support of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act.

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