Gay ex-Marine discusses ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Katie Glueck

On the day American troops crossed the Kuwaiti border into Iraq, now-retired Sgt. Eric Alva didn’t have time for breakfast.

When his convoy stopped in a province near Basra, he decided to microwave spaghetti and meatballs. Alva never had the chance to enjoy his meal – he walked into a land mine before he had finished heating it up.

Alva, the first American soldier to be injured in Iraq, spoke to a crowd of about 40 at the McCormick Auditorium in Norris University Center on Thursday night. Alva, who received a Purple Heart for his service and is openly gay, addressed the military’s policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – a law that discharges openly gay servicemen and women.

“When I went to war, I went to defend the rights and freedoms of every single individual in this country,” he said. “I tell the country, ‘Who would have ever guessed that the first person injured in the Iraq war is a gay Marine?'”

Alva spoke at the invitation of the Rainbow Alliance and the Peace Project. Patrick Dawson, co-president of the Rainbow Alliance, said he hopes to generate dialogue on campus about what he called a controversial policy.

“We need to understand the implications of having this policy exist in America,” the Weinberg junior said. “We let criminals serve in the military (a reference to a policy that allows first-time felons to serve) but not someone who’s openly gay. What message does that send?”

Alva lost a leg and part of a pointer finger in the explosion, three hours after entering Iraq. He now speaks on behalf of the Human Rights Campaign, an organization dedicated to promoting and protecting rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders and queers. He said he feels compelled to shed light on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” both as a former Marine and as a member of the LGBTQ community.

“I have an obligation to put myself out there, to say there are gay men and women who died for this country and who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to defend the rights and freedoms of people in this country,” he said.

He cited historic instances of military integration – like desegregation and allowing women to serve – as examples of successful diversification.

“The reasoning behind ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is some talk about ruining morale, cohesion and the overall foundation of the United States military,” he said. “People said the same thing in 1948 when Truman desegregated the military. Look at us now.”

Alva said he expected “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to be repealed within the next few years, which will catalyze progress for the LGBTQ community.

“It’s going to be a stepping stone for same-sex marriage,” he said. “We’re moving forward and the conversations are just going to get bigger on what rights people should have.”

Gabrielle Knight, a Weinberg sophomore, said she found Alva’s talk educational and poignant.

“I know ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is a really important issue, so I wanted to hear him speak,” she said. “I can’t believe this sort of discrimination still exists in this day and age.”

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