DADT activist celebrates repeal with Utah visit

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Eric Alva is an accidental activist. The first American soldier wounded in Iraq during the 2003 invasion came out on Good Morning America, and his role in becoming a Human Rights Campaign’s spokesperson happened organically.

“I never really thought I’d become an activist,” Alva said. “I didn’t do it to seek attention, and it took me a while to admit and say that I am an activist. But here I am, with a message.”

Alva will be speaking at the Salt Lake Community College, Redwood campus, Oct. 11 at 11:30 a.m., in celebration of National Coming Out Day. Following Alva’s presentation, there will be a panel discussion with audience participation. The free event is open to the public.

Alva served more than 13 years in the Marine Corps and was in the first wave of the ground troops in Iraq when he stepped on a landmine, triggering an explosion and lost his right leg.

After retiring from the military, Alva humanized the raging debate surrounding the battle to repeal the anti-gay measure, “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which barred service members from being open about their sexuality. He became the HRC’s spokesperson for the repeal of DADT.

“Some of my friends and people in my unit knew,” Alva said. “After so many questions about what I did on leave and why I attended the ball alone, it was bound to happen.”

Alva said he’d ask a friend to go grab some beers and shoot pool when he’d let them in on his secret and try to keep the rumors to a minimum.

“I was lucky that no one turned me in,” Alva said. “But it went over so well with everyone. If anything, it made my relationship with my friends that much better.”

On Sept. 20, the repeal of DADT was finally enacted and members of the armed services are allowed to be open about their sexuality. The enactment of the law comes after Congress repealed the law, which had been on the books since 1993, last December.

The repeal benefits the estimated 70,000 active-duty lesbian, gay and bisexual military members, according to the Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law. More than 14,000 service members were discharged under DADT and millions of dollars were spent enforcing the policy. A survey released by OutServe indicated that about 11 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual service members would come out. And about 29 percent would come out to close friends.

Alva was standing behind the president as he signed the law.

“I was so close I could smell his cologne,” Alva said. “This really is a special moment. The repeal of this law is overdue. Long overdue, really. And I really think it will open the doors to more conversations and events. People will be forced to deal with questions about benefits for partners and we can start to work on other issues that are so important to have equality for all.”

Alva also pointed out that the repeal of DADT is applicable only to gays, lesbians and bisexuals. Gender identity and expression are not included in the repeal and openly transgender people are still not allowed into the armed services.

Alva said he plans on continuing to advocate for equality in the armed services and ensure that the proper education and training are given after the repeal.

“It’s so important that service members will be able to be open. And while not all of them will, it’s so important to have that option,” Alva said. “My only advice for anyone before coming out is to find a support network. Go to the HRC, the Stonewall Democrats, PFLAG, anywhere you can find some support, just in case things go sour.”

The event with Alva is sponsored by QSaltLake, as well as the Speaker’s Bureau of SLCC and Coloring Outside the Lines.

You Should Go

WHEN: Oct. 11, 11:30 a.m.
WHERE: Salt Lake Community College, Taylorsville/Redwood Campus, Markosian Library, 2nd floor, 4600 S. Redwood Road.
COST: Free

Seth Bracken

Seth Bracken is the editor of QSaltLake

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