Sunday, March 04, 2007

Out and Proud

TODAY is the day to abandon America's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military.

Staff Sgt. Eric Alva lost his leg nearly four years ago when he stepped on a land mine in the desert in Kuwait. He was the first U.S. Marine to be seriously wounded in the Iraq conflict. In Bethesda Naval Hospital, Alva was visited by President Bush and Laura Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and ex-basketball player Michael Jordan.

As the first Marine to be injured in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Alva became a household name. He was a guest on "Oprah" and was awarded a Purple Heart. Unsurprisingly, his good looks and polite charm made him a poster boy for military bravery and inspiring patriotism.

The opportunistic, media-savvy establishment figures queuing up for their photo ops were unaware of one crucial fact in this story -- the 5'1" Latino from San Antonio just happens to be gay.

Alva was aware of his sexuality when he enlisted aged 19 in 1990, and admits to lying on his application when asked about his sexual orientation. However, Alva's wish to serve his country proved stronger than fears regarding sexual honesty.

Already a hero on many levels, Alva is about to use his unique place in history to create waves of a different kind. He came out at a Wednesday news conference on Capitol Hill, where he called for the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the service to be abandoned.

"I'm an American who fought for his country and for the protection and the rights and freedoms of all American citizens -- not just some of them, but all of them," Alva said.

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