WASHINGTON, D.C. — The first U.S. military personnel wounded in the Iraq war, retired Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, came out as a gay man. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has announced that Alva will serve as a national spokesperson in its effort to repeal the U.S. military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
Eric Alva, right, receiving the 2003 Heroes and Heritage Award.
On March 21, 2003, Alva was in charge of 11 Marines in a supply unit in Iraq when he stepped on a landmine, losing his right leg. Alva spent months of rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Hospital where he was visited by President George W. Bush, First Lady Laura Bush and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He was awarded a Purple Heart for his service and given the Heroes and Heritage Award before he received a medical discharge from the military.
Alva publicly announced during a Capitol Hill press conference on Feb. 28 that he is gay in order to reintroduce the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, legislation to repeal the ban against openly gay and lesbian Americans serving in the military.
“When Eric Alva lost his leg in Iraq, it didn’t matter whether he was gay or straight, only that he was a courageous American serving his country,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “Eric’s voice represents the sacrifice of thousands of gay and lesbian service members fighting for the safety and freedom of all Americans. We believe his story should help move this issue forward and educate Congress as to why it’s so important to lift the discriminatory ban that compromises our nation’s security.”
“Any Americans willing to serve their country shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not the government will give them fair and equal treatment when they return home,” said Alva. “My proudest moment in the military came when I would confide in one of my friends about my sexual orientation, and they still treated me with the same respect as before. And although I’m no longer wearing the uniform of the U.S. Marine Corps, my mission continues to be protecting the rights and freedoms of all Americans.”
Alva has widely discussed his recovery and the war through appearances on numerous TV news shows and “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” He has also been profiled in several major newspapers and in People magazine. But his revelation during the press conference is the first time he has publicly talked about his sexual orientation in relation to his military service.
Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva lost his
right leg when he stepped on a landmine on March 21, 2003.
“We salute Eric for his bravery on and off the battlefield,” continued Solmonese. “The courage and sacrifice of gay and lesbian service members, like Eric Alva, should be heralded, not silenced.”
As spokesperson for HRC, Alva will raise awareness of the harmful effects of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy through public appearances, media interviews and blog postings. Alva also met with key congressional leaders during the HRC lobby day on March 1 to urge the repeal of this costly, discriminatory policy.
In 2005, the Government Accountability Office estimated that the cost to recruit and train replacements for enlisted service members separated from duty under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban was more than $190 million from fiscal years 1994 through 2003.