OPM celebrates National LGBT Pride Month

Uploaded by USOPM on 18.07.2012

Good afternoon, everyone.
Good afternoon.
It's so good to see so many of you here today. Happy Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Transgender Pride
Month. It's a wonderful thing to be able to celebrate that.
Today, I'll be MCing the event. My name is Ed Ames. I am with Employee Services, OPM's
HR office.
I'd like to thank you all, each of you, for coming today. I'd like to express a special
thank you to Eric for coming all the way to Texas today for this event. I'd like to welcome
everyone who is on the webcast, as well as in the auditorium.
It's very affirming to the LGBT community to see our colleagues here and that you've
taken time out of your day to learn something more about us and to share in our celebration.
Without any further ado, I will pass things off to Director Berry.
Thank you, everybody. Eric, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule
to be with us. We are so honored to have you with us today and so grateful for you joining
us today. Thank you so much.
This is a special Pride Month for me because I never believed that the changes we have
been able to wrought in the past three-and-a-half years would have happened in my lifetime.
It is with a great deal of pride that each of you have helped to advance the ball and
the flag of equality forward as well as we have.
When you think about it, hate crimes now and their prevention is the law of our land. Hospitals
are now required to allow visitation for all partners and spouses. Equal access to housing
has been provided. As you're going to hear, finally, Don't Ask, Don't Tell has met its
It is a record that all Americans can be proud of. It will enable loyal families to stick
together, loved ones to meet their vows and brave Americans to finally openly serve their
I am here to introduce to you one of those brave men who served our country at great
personal risk. His name is Eric Alva.
Now, Eric is a native of San Antonio who joined the Marine Corps at the age of 19, one year
after my own father joined the Marine Corps, at 18 himself. He comes from a proud family
tradition of service.
I just want to read one quote from Eric. "I come from a family of servicemen. My dad,
who is named Fidelis, is a Vietnam vet. My grandfather, also named Fidelis, was a World
War II and Korean War veteran." That was my dad, as well. He served at Guadalcanal and
then into Korea.
Eric says, "I was named after them. My middle name is Fidelis. Fidelis means faithful and
anybody who knows the Marine Corp knows that is their motto, Semper Fidelis, as well."
On March 21, 2003, Sergeant Alva was in Iraq travelling with a convoy to Basra. He was
a sergeant in charge of 11 other Marines. He happened to step on a landmine, breaking
his arm and damaging his leg so badly that it had to be amputated.
In this event, Sergeant Alva became the first American soldier wounded in our war in Iraq
and his story has been told in countless magazines and television shows, including on Oprah.
After recovering from his wounds, Sergeant Alva also came out to the world as an openly
gay man and he added his powerful voice to advocating for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't
I will tell you this honestly. His Purple Heart, his passion, his integrity and his
voice were instrumental in securing the repeal of this legislation. Eric, for that, this
nation owes you a great debt of thanks. God bless you for taking the time to be with us
today. Please join me in welcoming Retired Sergeant Eric Alva.
Thank you so much.
Thank you everybody. Thank you, John. Thank you. I want to also pay homage to my friend
Vic Bezo who called me a couple months ago and asked me to come celebrate LGBT Pride
Not just here, but of course, as we celebrate it more and more often ever since our President
has been in office. Even writing the proclamations that he does to celebrate Pride Month in this
great country of ours, as we still continue moving forward on accepting people on the
diverse backgrounds that they are.
I didn't write a speech, because I don't normally like to write my speeches. I always think
that they're rehearsed and I always like speaking from the heart.
Sometimes, if I get a little emotional it's because hearing my own story tends to make
me sad on how things turned out in my life as the tragedy that unfolded, in those early
hours on the first day of ground invasion to Operation Iraqi Freedom, which my anniversary
will be 10 years next year, which is hard to believe.
It's great to be in our nation's capital, District of Columbia. I went, now, actually
put it past me that actually we have better weather in Texas than you all do now.
I was actually talking to my mother this morning and I said, "You would not believe how hot
it is here."
She's like, "Really? It can't be as bad as it is here." She's like, "We're at 100."
I said, "No, it's worse." I said, "It's bad."
As the theme of this month's celebration for here at OPM, "Pride Links Us Together," I
just want to say that most people often ask me, even friends that I have made over the
last several years when I first starting speaking out and announcing not just to the country
but the world that I was a gay individual, especially a gay man being the first American
injured in the Iraq war and coming out as openly gay.
People, the ones that I have met over the path have often asked me, "I can't believe
that you would want to live in Texas, Eric. You guys really have it bad down there."
I know. I know. It's the pride that I come from living in that state, I was born and
raised, as well as my grandparents and my family. It's just interesting because we have
now, in the fourth largest city in the country, Annise Parker who is the mayor of Houston.
We have Lupe Valdez who is the sheriff of Travis County in Dallas, the whole Dallas-Ft.
Worth area, who is an open lesbian as well.
We are, in fact, St. Antonio, which is the seventh largest city as the last census in
the United States, and I live in Bear County. It was the first time in almost 25 years that
we actually voted blue. Not to get into politics, but that was a huge success.
The state, we actually, those of us in the LGBT population, actually say that we are
not a red state. We call it purple. We actually tell people that, we are a purple state because
what happens when you mix red and blue together. That's what's happening.
I think people are learning and understanding what it means to be the individual that you
are. Coming to places like this and going to speak to people, it gives me the pride
and sense, especially the pride, to stand here today on two good legs again and share
with people my story and journey over the last several years.
As you heard, Director Berry tell you, it was on March 21st 2003. It was a very, very
unfortunate day. It was a day that was chaotic after getting the word that we were going
to go in and Saddam Hussein being given that 48-hour ultimatum that we would finally go
into the country.
As we progressed, after the whole night of Shock and Awe, we moved forward. It was unfortunate
because things were just happening so fast, and as you heard Director Berry say, I was
in charge of 11 Marines and I was the only one who had ever really been deployed.
I had just passed my 12 year mark in the United States Marine Corp and had just signed a new
contact that would have put me at 16. It wasn't my first real deployment. My first real deployment
actually came in 1992, '93 when I was sent to Somalia to serve in Operation Restore Hope,
which most people familiarize themselves with "Black Hawk Down."
I had already been to a environment like this, so I was worried about my Marines. It was
hard, because I knew or felt like this isn't the same as last time. I think we are going
to have causalities and people are going to get injured. I just didn't know it was going
to be me so quickly.
That was a very unfortunate day where, as I got out of my vehicle on the third time
and I triggered the landmine...there was 12 people who were injured during that whole
moment, because then a second explosion went off and one of the medics or Navy Corps men,
a combat medic for the army actually lost his leg as well.
I thought my life was over. My career was over. Even thinking of the word pride back
then, there was nothing that I could even think of that I wanted to do anymore except
still serve my country.
It took me a lot to get back up and, as someone who has suffered such a tragedy of my left
leg being broken and my right hand, you can still see the damage. It's kind of mangled
from almost losing my hand. I don't have feeling, only just in this part of the hand.
It was something I knew I had to do, was get back up. I often tell people that, and I did,
as you can see. To all of us who have ever suffered some hardship or any kind of bumps
in the road, I have to tell you from someone even who came to Bethesda and Walter Reed,
recovering and then sent home, I always thought like, how could this happen?
What if I had taken a nap? What if I had just stayed on the vehicle? What if I had just
walked this way instead of this way?
The reality was that I couldn't do what-ifs anymore, and we really shouldn't as individuals
because it doesn't change the past. We can only learn from that and move forward.
Even when I thought I had it bad losing one leg, then I started seeing my fellow service
members from the Army, Air Force, Marine Corp, Navy, Coast Guards, you name it. They were
coming into the hospital, and now they were missing both their legs or they were missing
an arm and a leg.
I was just at Walter Reed before it closed last March in 2011 to kind of say goodbye
to the hospital. I was there with Elizabeth Burch. I actually went into my own hospital
room just to have this moment.
But the very first room I went into was Cpl. Keys and he was missing both of his legs and
his arm. 23 years old. What I'm getting at is that, when we think we have it bad, someone
else always has it worse.
I think, looking at where we've gone in the last three and a half years, it was that time
that I now became part of this wave, what people have put forward long, long time before
I ever decided to come out.
It was in 2007 when, at that time, congressman Marty Meehan from Massachusetts was the one
who was introducing the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, because it was his courage
and even other people's courage that worked with him, from both parties, that felt like
this was the time we need to start looking at where people work together and, especially
in the United States armed services, to finally let lesbian, gay individuals serve openly.
It was that path on February 28th in 2007 that, as I stated, announced to the world
that I am a gay man who has served my country. It wasn't just for the rights. It was for
the rights of every single individual in this nation, not just the selected few.
That the rights I almost died for and even have shed blood for that, as a gay service
member, and this was 2007, remind you that as history has went forward, it was to tell
people that I am a patriotic American who loves the country that I am.
I'm not just a gay man. I'm also Hispanic. I'm disabled, and I'm a veteran, so that's
four of the nine classes of diversity.
I don't think I can hit the other ones. Or some of them, I don't know.
But it was there that we started our path. As we see from 2007 and in our great year
of 2008, when the president was elected, because what his goals and his visions of where this
country should go and as we see is even still, where we're moving forward.
It was there that we saw, in the next couple of years, working on the repeal of Don't Ask,
Don't Tell. It was there that it was the first time that I had been, not necessarily summoned,
but to Congress to testify in July of 2008. Now, I knew what it felt like to sit behind
a table with microphones and they have people when you see on C-SPAN. It was for the House
Armed Services Committee.
It was interesting, because there were three people speaking on behalf of to repeal Don't
Ask, Don't Tell and, of course, you still have to hear both sides, because that's what
this nation is built about. We're communicating with each other and learning form each other,
so there was two proponents to keeping Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
It was interesting because Sergeant Major Jones, I think, who was one of the proponents
on keeping Don't Ask, Don't Tell actually stated that, if you do this, then you're going
to ruin the structure of the United States Armed Forces, that it was ever built on from
1776, as long as this country's been in existence.
He stated, of course, that the fact that young commissioned officers out of college are going
to resign their commissions. You're going to have people who are not going to re-enlist
anymore. People will not want to work with those individuals.
Of course, I was there to tell my experiences that the fact that, I'm going to stand here
and tell you the truth, I broke the policy under Don't Ask, Don't Tell even though I
was pre-Don't Ask, Don't Tell and even post, that I did tell people.
Because it was the only law in this country that was ever passed by Congress in 1993 that
forced individuals such as myself to go to work every day and lie about who we were.
Because as human beings, and I'm a social worker now, as human beings we're so intrusive
of each other. Just flying over here, people were asking me on the plane like, "What are
you going to D.C. for? Is it business or work?" I said, "Well, it's business and to visit
But people ask you where are you from, what do you do, what's your job, things like that.
Well, in the Marine Corp during that time, people are always asking, "Why do you always
go to the Marine Corps Ball by yourself?" "Sergeant Alva, Corporal Alva, don't you have
a girlfriend?" It was very stressful what this law did to people, especially during
in time of war.
I did tell people often, and there were people on my convoy that day who knew I was a gay
Marine, but nobody cared. Nobody cared, because they knew the jobs that we were doing. They
knew the jobs that we could do, just like all the individuals here regardless of their
diverse background.
It's the pride that links us together that we work together on accomplishing a mission,
getting the task done and making sure that everybody is taken care of.
It was there, that time in July of 2008, telling members of Congress or on the House Armed
Services Committee my experiences of what my job was. Of course, my record spoke for
It was there that now I was telling my story, as well as other individuals, that made sure
this is where we need to move forward, especially in time of two wars at the time. Of course,
letting people serve their country openly and for who they are. It's now the fact that
here we are.
I was very, very, very fortunate because when I came to...I have to give credit to my good
friend over the years now and former congressman Patrick Murphy, who took over during that
time for congressman Meehan and got elected to Congress as the first Iraq veteran elected
to congress.
It was there that I remember sitting in the House galley in May of 2010, and I think the
vote was 234 to 194. It was a huge, huge night for all of us. It was disappointing though
in September when we did lose the vote.
I thought right there, as a human, even having some sort of pessimism, that I thought, "This
is it. We'll never move forward." Of course, even at 40 years old that year in 2010, that
you learn a lot. We're never too old to learn anything.
That's when someone said, "Well, we still have the lame duck session, Eric."
I'm like, "What does a duck have to do with all of this?"
I had to Google what lame duck meant and I was like, "Oh, I get it." That's when I was
called back to Washington that December, the day before my birthday on December 18th, and
the House passed our vote again. The Senate passed their vote with six members on the
other side going with us.
It was a huge, huge celebration. I probably could not have asked for a better 40th birthday
gift, still being alive today, that Congress had now repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Of course, which is something that I'll always live by in history or being part of history,
is people often say, "You're part of history. You're in books or something," was when I
got a call from Brian Bond at the White House and said, "Eric, we need your social security
and your information."
The reason why is because...I was really ecstatic and honored to witness history when I got
to stand behind our Commander in Chief when he signed the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell
on December 22nd of 2010.
Of course, it wasn't until last year on September 20th, which just now...Well, the 20th was
yesterday. It's only been nine months since September 20th, 2011, that, as of midnight
on that night, because I was in San Diego. I decided to go celebrate in San Diego.
I remember we all stayed up, there were these huge military service members, Navy, Air Force,
you name it. People were coming out. We were at the LGBT Center in San Diego in the Hillcrest
area, and it was almost like gay New Year's Eve or something, because at the stroke of
midnight, now it was open service.
As of yesterday, it's only been nine months since the United States Armed Forces has allowed
gay men and women to serve openly in the military.
I will have to tell you that, as time has gone on, a lot of my friends...here's where
I'm going to evoke the theme again, pride links us together.
I served 13 years and three months in the United States Marine Corps. I won't lie, the
Marine Corps tends to be a little narcissistic amongst all the other branches. We literally
get in our uniforms and stand in the mirror looking at ourselves, because our uniforms
are so nice.
They tend to be very, very...As a social worker, not to stereotype or stigmatize, the Marines
tend to be very hardcore, to where they don't want to see change. I was really surprised
as the pride in myself and my fellow Marines, when people were calling me.
I have friends who are Marines, can be diehard Republicans, diehard Conservatives, living
in Wyoming, Montana, North Carolina, Texas, you name it, anywhere. They love NASCAR and,
again, I'm not labeling...
What I'm getting at is it's the pride that we served together, that they knew the Marine
I was, and I've had every single one of my friends I've ever served with, even when I
was 19 years old, come forward and say, "If you ever need me to stand by you and you need
me to tell people that I support same sex marriage, I support equal rights, and I don't
care how it looks because I'm a diehard Conservative or Republican, I don't care."
I think it's the experiences we had over our walks of life and years serving together,
that it's the pride that links us together to the fact that they know as an individual
what it's like to see that one of their fellow Marines or brothers is being treated, and
they won't stand for it.
I think, as time goes on, it's the sense of pride that I stand here today and the fact
that, when I have one of my fellow Marines who I always thought was so butch or rugged,
the fact for them to say, "I love you as a brother."
Even one of my friends in North Carolina, Sergeant Beemer said on his Facebook one day,
he's like, "When I get to heaven, if my fellow Marine brother Eric Alva is not there, then
I don't want to go."
It's about life. We only get this one life. I've told people, when I often speak, that
tomorrow is just a word. It doesn't exist. I hope as we continue to do is to move forward
in letting people be who they are, and I think we're going to move forward on so much of
respecting each other, learning from each other.
That one day the people who finally feel like Sergeant Major Jones when I testified in 2008,
when he said about the whole people leaving the military and everything like that. I remember
one of the reporters asking me, "Well, what did you think about his response, Sergeant
I said, "Well, I have to tell Sergeant Major Jones good luck on winning the Powerball."
He reporter looked at me kind of strange and I said, "Because even though we don't have
any federal laws...not discrimination laws in the country for people of the LGBT population,
gay and transgender." Because I know in Texas, you can still be fired solely for who you
are, being part of the LGBT population. We don't have any laws there.
I told the reporter, "Good luck to Sergeant Major Jones on winning the Powerball, because
when you come to places like here at OPM or when I've been to like Pepsi or whether it's
the hotel industry, the airline industry, the car industry, the retail industry, you
name it."
"All these places and organizations have now instituted their policies on non-discrimination,
to not discriminate against anyone, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, mental,
physical disability, orientation, and gender identity."
I mean, the country is moving forward for what we really stand by on those last six
words, "With liberty and justice for all."
It is time and I'm very fortunate when I see, going to colleges and universities, the young
individuals today, the young men and women. They have such a spirit and courage among
them. Do not tell them no, because they know they are the wave of letting people be who
they are.
I'm very fortunate to leave here, to be with all of you and celebrate my life that I still
have, that I'm very fortunate that I'm still alive today, because I could share stories
with you for hours on what it was like in the hospital in those times of being intubated
and realizing my leg was gone. It was unbearable.
But I'm very grateful and, as I stated, someone always has it worse than even me. But I'm
alive, I'm thankful every day and it's wonderful that, when I leave here tomorrow morning,
I head to Lake Hurst, New Jersey to McGuire Air Force Base.
Because two of my friends, Irwin O'Malley and Will Barrens who are both Air Force, are
having their first...In fact, it's at McGuire Air Force Base, will hold their wedding ceremony
on the base on Saturday at 1:00 PM on June 23rd.
I know it's the first of the base. It's the first for the Air Force, and there's many
more to come.
I'm very, very thankful that I get to see these two gentlemen who have spent 10 plus
years together and even in hiding during that time of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, now finally
having their wedding ceremony with their three children with them, because it's their family,
their life, their happiness.
No one in this country ever has a right to tell someone else how to live their life or
even reserve the right to tell them that you can't have these rights that are for me. They're
not equal to you.
As a person who's standing on two good legs and now will be 42 this year, I have a lot
of life to give and I still have a lot of voice to give. There's nothing worse than
having a 5' 1" United States gay Marine coming up against people who oppose us having equal
rights, because I will always be there to speak out and make sure that this country
is based on the freedom that we live by.
Everybody in this room, as I said to myself, nobody owns your happiness and no one will
ever own my happiness. I'm going to make sure that people are who they are, because that's
what this is about. I know we are still going to move with...I'm a very, very optimistic
person that, come November, we're still going to move forward on making great strides in
this country.
I would hate to be the person on the wrong side of history, because one day they're going
to be the minorities. That's just how I see it. It's the continued pride that's standing
here today, and the pride of all of you working together that links all of us by all weird
kind of senses.
You know when you're thinking of someone and all of the sudden you get a text or you see
your phone and you're like, I was just thinking of that person? Or, that email or something
and you're like, "I've got to email someone," and by the time you click on your inbox, that
person's already emailed you or something?
I think we're all connected in a way and it's the pride of all of our living and experiences.
All walks of life and diverse backgrounds. It's going to continue to build this country
for what it's about.
Again, thank you, Director Berry. John, my good friend. Vick, someone who long...Even
the foundation, for where I became a part of the organization with the Human Rights
Campaign and SLD and everybody.
It's wonderful to be alive, and I am very thankful every day. Thank you very much for
letting me come and be here in our nation's capital, especially at the office of OPM to
celebrate Pride Month, because that's what life is about. It's our pride, and each of
us that we give each other.
Thank you very much.
Yes, if anyone has a couple of questions...I will answer any questions, if anyone has any.
Yes, sir?
Thank you. What were some of the challenges you had to overcome from when you came out,
between your family and the Hispanic community, and also going forward?
That's a good question. Did everyone hear Mark's question about my family being...because
that's a very good question about me coming out. I was raised Catholic. I'm still Catholic.
The way I just said that, I'm sorry I said that.
Well, that's a good discussion. Especially with the Hispanic culture, Latino culture.
It's very, very traditional and things like that. It's really interesting, because when
I did come out, my father who, as a Vietnam veteran surviving the Tet Offense and, of
course, my grandfather. I didn't come out to my father until a year after I got injured.
My mother always knew, when I told her in 1996 and everything. It was very hard because
she's like, "You can't do this. You're going to shame the family." I was 25 at the time.
She was like, "I don't want to talk, ever hear about this again."
It was very sad and it was very ironic because, when I did tell my father, my father was like,
"I've always loved you. I will always continue to love you."
I kind of gave that deer in the headlight look like, I had this totally backwards. I
should have told him first.
But it was interesting because the whole Hispanic culture. The gentleman, my father, intimidates
me sometimes, because it's that whole upbringing and that whole machoism of the Latino culture
and things like that. I was afraid to tell him, but I knew I had to.
They're very supportive, but it's hard, and not to get into politics and religion. I have
a priest at home, Father Garcia, who mentors me on not losing my faith, the fact how sometimes
religion can get.
It is hurtful sometimes on the rhetoric people use to denounce a person's life, the life
that I know. I tell people that lying on the sands of Iraq, when I saw that this was covered
in blood and I knew something was really wrong, and I just looked up at the sky and I just
started to plead with God not to let me die.
I believe my prayers were answered because I was saved for a reason, and I know it was
to be here and share my experiences, as well as others who have given so much. It's a little
hard sometimes when you try not to lose that faith and how things and people what they
say, on their rhetoric, just the way they treat individuals for who they are.
All my family, my mom had 10 kids on her side, my father had four. It's a huge, huge Hispanic
family. But every single individual in my family knows me. They love me. My grandmother
passed away in 2009, but she supported me for who I was. Everybody just loves me, and
I'm very fortunate that, as our family continues to grow, people are accepting.
Here is a huge family. We have Vietnamese. We have Irish. I have first cousins that are
in Arkansas. Not to make my cousin Virginia, because I remember my partner at the time,
[jokingly] by the way I'm single...Anyways.
Sorry. You've got to have a little humor, come on. My partner at the time...when my
grandmother passed away, my cousin Virginia came from Arkansas, and she was all talking
like that, and totally pale while and freckles and everything.
My partner at the time, Daryl, was like, "That's not your first cousin."
I was like, "That's my first cousin."
We have African American, like I said, Vietnamese, Irish. It's a beautiful foundation of what
our family is like, but everybody is so accepting. I'm very, very blessed and grateful. That
doesn't mean we all get along, like the movie "The Family Stone?" But I'm blessed. I don't
know if I answered your question totally, but I know I tend to get blah, blah, blah.
Sorry. It's the heat.
Does anyone else have a question? Yes, sir.
You hear so much over the years about allowing gays to serve in the military is just going
to destroy unit cohesion. That's the big buzzword, but you said that there were people who served
with you that knew you were gay. Did you see any of that?
No. Everybody hear his question? During that time, I have to go back and, as I stated,
I have to reiterate that it was stressful. It was stressful to lie every day, and go
to work and hope nobody finds out who you are. To turn you in, or even possibly be incarcerated
into the brig or lose all your benefits and be dishonorably discharged solely for being
Waking up every morning and just hoping no one sees right through you. Going back to
what I was saying, how people tend to be intrusive, I think the stress builds on you, so every
unit I was in, I would tend to tell one person. Or a second person, or then that person, because
gossip is so great sometimes, and people, they just can't keep it to themselves.
Even my fellow Marines who were married would go home and tell their wife. Of course, they
live in base housing, so she'd go next door like "Desperate Housewives."
"Guess what John told me last night?"
She would tell her...
Before you knew it, people knew. But it was interesting because nobody cared. I remember,
I'll give you a scenario. This was October 1996. We got this new Marine. Very, very tough.
Very hardcore and sometimes a little too ambitious. Nobody really liked him and everything.
He found out I was gay, so he started rallying people, like, "We need to turn him in." Because
someone told him, "Yeah, don't you know Sergeant Alva's gay? But he's the fastest runner in
our whole company of 300 Marines. He's the most [indecipherable 35:00] . He is actually
like Napoleon. Do not go near him."
"He's that tough. Don't mess with him. He does his job." Well, that Marine wanted to
turn me in. A few of the Marines got together and they said, "You know what? We've heard
what you've been trying to do."
Because they came and told me. They were like, "Sergeant so and so is trying to turn you
in." I was like, [sighs] . I was stressed again. They say, "Don't worry, because we
actually came together and we said if he says anything we're going to say it's him who's
He had only been in the command since July. Here it is October. I think he went about
it the wrong way because a lot of people were like, "You just got here. This is camaraderie.
This is our unit cohesion. This is how we function as a platoon, as a group. We take
care of one another. We don't do this to Marines. Let's look in everybody's background."
But here he is, this ambitious...and he was always by himself. He was just really hardcore.
People knew, "OK, he's just out for himself." He wasn't a team player or a brother, so they
literally came up with a plan.
Said, "If you try to take him down, we're going to make all these stories up that someone
witnessed you at the gay club."
They were prepared to stand behind me and say, "Sergeant Alva's not gay." People were
going to go and lie for me. But, I have to tell you firsthand that unit cohesion, morale...like
I said, on the day of that convoy in Iraq, when the explosions were going off, there
were three people on that convoy who knew I was gay.
It wasn't about the fact that like, "Oh, don't save his life. He's gay, so we have to let
him die." It was about working together to accomplish that mission and make sure that
we were defending this country.
I think that was one of the biggest, concrete, evidential support that we saw. The fact that
people like myself coming forward, and gay service members, not just myself, but even
from the past, when they were telling their stories, then I think that played a big role
in members of Congress and people listening.
The fact that it was ludicrous to use that excuse, the fact that unit cohesion or morale
would be destroyed. It didn't. It was never destroyed. It was never affected. People worked
together to get a job done as patriotic Americans.
I believe, as I hear from people's experiences, I've had three friends I've met over the years
who were kicked out under Don't Ask, Don't Tell, have now raised a right hand again and
reenlisted. Have put back on the uniform after being kicked out, which is huge, huge success.
I won't lie to you. I know Director Berry knows. There's still a lot of work to be done.
I think what I'm getting at is that, here we are from Korea, even from World War II,
and even Vietnam or even other experiences from Grenada, Panama, you name it. There were
so many thousands of gay men and women who were kicked out, even before Don't Ask, Don't
During that time, a lot of them had their characterization on their DD-214s characterized
as dishonorable for homosexuality. When you have such a characterization and label, when
you go to the Veteran Affairs, I am 100 percent service-connected disabled. Every single thing
I get, I get from the government now.
But think of the veterans who served their country, even in Vietnam or other places like
that, came home, and my father, who is 100 percent service-connected as well, is from
100 percent posttraumatic stress. I have posttraumatic stress.
What about the gay service members who did a tour in Vietnam, or two tours, came home
and may have had the same posttraumatic stress and were never, because getting home and getting
kicked out dishonorably, never were able to walk into the Veteran's Affairs office and
claim their benefits?
I don't talk bad about our country but, as a country, we did them an injustice to not
give them what they served.
Now, what we're doing is, retroactively, we need to go back and fix those discharge papers
for the people who honorably served their country, regardless of being lesbian, gay,
bisexual and transgender.
There are a lot of people out there who lost out on rights that they so earned in this
country, and there's still a lot of work that needs to be done. Not off the subject, but
going back, cohesion was always there. It was never, never once affected.
One more, please? Yes, Barry.
Just to follow up with what you said, all of these discharges that were dishonorable,
there's no [indecipherable 40:06] , because each soldier has to go in individually and
apply to have their discharge, and they have to pay for all those fees.
Legal fees. It's a process.
Like you say, there's still a lot of work to be done.
Did everyone hear Berry's comments? There's still a lot of work to be done, because each
individual case, there's a process that they have to go through, even writing the Secretary
of the Army or something. There's a process that each case has to be done. But they have
to get legal representation, and it's a lot to go back.
It's unfortunate that here is someone who could be in their 60's already, 30 plus years
from Vietnam and now they're seeking their benefits, and because they were discharged
when they were 22 years old, even then from being drafted, as my father was back then.
Even walking into the VA and being told you can't have any VA loans or you can't seek
mental health services because you were discharged for homosexuality. It's like they're shown
the door. "We can't help you." Because that's the way the law was still written at the time.
Of course, I believe, as optimistic as I am, even come November, we're going to keep moving
forward on making sure people are taken care of in this country.
I will be part of that especially, no matter where I am. Whether I decide to move to DC,
or live in Texas or move to Hawaii or wherever. I'm going to always make sure that people
understand what the respect and dignity and self-worth of individuals have in this country,
that everybody be treated equally.
As I stated, that I fought for the rights and the freedoms of the people in this country.
Not just the selected few. I am prepared to take that path and even challenge people.
I'll take one last question. There was one person in the back, real quick, but here you
There are people on death row who have more rights than I do. I'm going to tell you that
right now. There are people on death row who have more rights than I do. As we know as
a country, legally, I can never get married.
I bring that interesting, because my college crowds, they go on. My college crowds, and
it was like in 2009, I was reading USA Today. 2009, who remembers the Sharon Tate murders?
It was the 40th anniversary. When I do this to the college crowds, the college kids are
They don't remember anything from 1969. I was born in 1970. Anyways, I was reading the
profiles of what happened to all the criminals, and Tex Watson got married in prison and had
three kids.
I'm like, I serve my country, lose my leg. I've never broken the law except getting a
ticket, speeding. I like to drive fast.
But, there are people in this country that sit on death row for not following the ways
of the laws of rules and regulation, and they have more rights than I do. It's mind-boggling.
But we are going to make change.
We are moving forward to making sure that people, every single individual in this country,
even those on death row, have equal rights. Anyways, that's my two cents. I'm sorry. I
tend to think out loud.
Yes, sir.
I was just going to ask, is there a movement or is anybody in Congress pushing to have
all those dishonorables for homosexuality just "blanketly" taken away? That's huge.
A dishonorable discharge, I don't know if everybody in the room understands how huge
that is.
There is talk of, even people often ask me, "Eric, why don't you run for Congress or even
State Representative or something?" I'm like, "No."
But there are politicians who have been approached in meetings to someone to author or adopt
the bill to move forward, as we see other things that are taking precedence in this
country. But there are talks.
As John and I were talking earlier, as we lay the foundation for other things. Because,
not to keep going further, I mean, we can talk forever, but we still have to finally
recognize the issue. One of our biggest allies that we served with in Afghanistan and Iraq,
Great Britain, as we see has open service for even transgender individuals.
Of course, that wasn't written in the language for DADT repeal. We still have that to do.
There is groundwork we need to lay before we get there. I believe discussions like this,
or Pride celebrations, and that we move forward.
There are discussions, though. That's one thing I keep telling people is to have these
discussions, because the more we keep communicating, then of course we start laying the groundwork.
I mean, some people wish it would be faster. Because I remember, even those in the military,
when we didn't think even in the first year for the President, that we didn't do enough
for DADT and things like that. People do sometimes get impatient. But, it will happen. It will
happen, I believe.
As all of us here, I plan to be on that work as well to make sure, as I said, that people
are just treated equally. But we are talking about that.
Thank you very much everybody. Thank you so much.
Eric, thank you. Before I make one final presentation, I just want to, two parentheses. Rick, to
your question, it's interesting. I mentioned my father served at Guadalcanal, lived there
for nine months in the battle.
He said his timing was always bad, because he went from there to being the Marine Gunnery
Sergeant, Plank Holder of the USS Bonhomme Richard just as the Kamikaze movement started.
He said he had very bad timing, but he got out of it, thank God, alive.
But when all of this brouhaha around Don't Ask, Don't Tell was happening, this was before
my father passed away, I remember him saying to me, he says, "I don't get what all the
fuss is about."
He said, "We didn't call them gays back then, but they were there and they died as bravely
as anybody else."
That's the history. That cohesion has been there since the beginning. LGBT members have
been in the military since the beginning and Arlington is filled with the blood of them,
as it is of all loyal Americans. Anybody who works together understands that unit cohesion.
Eric, we want to thank you for sharing that with us.
The second point, in terms of, people know where heat comes from in Washington, but you
might wonder where the humidity comes from. Well, it is the seat of government.
We all talk a lot. You mentioned the lame duck session. Something that many people don't
appreciate, and he is an unsung hero in the Don't Ask, Don't Tell passage, we were at
the very end of the year and losing hope...I'm a pretty optimistic guy. I always believe
there's always a way.
Congressman Steny Hoyer, God bless him. I will tell you this. The Senate had engineered
a block to prevent this vote from coming up, because it couldn't come up on the Armed Services
Bill. This is literally 48 hours before the Congress adjourns for the year.
Congressman Hoyer, in using a parliamentary technique, if we could pass the bill through
the House of Representatives again--literally have the House act on it one more time and
send it to the Senate--it would come in a privileged way that the objection requiring
the 60 votes would not be required.
When Mr. Hoyer was approached with what was a pretty tall order, you can imagine. There
were a lot of things on the plate in that last 48 hours.
There were negotiations on arms treaties. There were trade agreements. There were appropriation
bills that had to get done. A lot of important work. To take floor time to re-pass a bill
without assurance that it was really going to make a difference took real courage.
God bless him, as majority leader at the time, he brought it back up, re-passed it through
the House of Representatives, secured its legislative safety and ultimately allowed
for the passage and signature by the President.
When you think of exploiting that lame duck period, I think Mr. Hoyer is one of those
people who doesn't get his due in history, but certainly it wouldn't have happened without
Now, if I could, Eric, I don't know which way they brought you into our building, but
the building is named for Teddy Roosevelt. I don't know if it's been explained to you,
but he was one of the first commissioners of what, at the time, was called the US Civil
Service Commission.
He went on then from there to the rest of his illustrious career. He fought for something
we call the Merit Principle, which is that, in America, people should be judged by one
thing alone, how well they do the job and nothing else. Your life and your story today
is testimony that you have lived the Merit Principle and you have held our country accountable
to that principle.
Our highest award is named in his honor, the Teddy Roosevelt Award. It is given those who
defend the Merit Principle with extraordinary effort. It is my high honor to present this
to you today, not only for your defense, but in also reflecting the Rough Rider spirit
of our founder, Teddy.
Eric, God bless you, and thank you very much for your service to our nation.
Thank you, Eric for that. I almost cried a couple of times. I am just as emotional as
you can be. That was wonderful. Thank you so much. In closing, I'd like to actually
make a special announcement that I just received permission to do before this.
Just earlier today, I received a draft copy of an FAQ that OPM will publishing shortly
that's still with the Director for approval. But finally, OPM will have an FAQ for HR specialists
throughout the country, as well as for same-sex couples, LGBT, in terms of what benefits they
can receive and what they can't receive.
It will all be consolidated into one spot, rather than having to look at each separate
regulation. That's actually a huge thing for many of us, especially when you've adopted
a child.
In closing, on behalf of the LGBT community here at OPM, as well as our allies and friends
in other [indecipherable 52:06] , thank you again for coming. Director Barry, thank you.
Also, we'd like to that Lorna Lewis, Terri Coleman and other members of the EEO office
for organizing June's Pride events.
Also, thank you to CPL, Communications Public Liaison, for their sponsoring of this event.
The publishing office for the terrific artwork that they have done and the wall exhibit outside
the cafeteria. It's amazing, if you haven't seen it yet. Make sure that you do stop by
to see that. I even had to take some pictures and bring them home. It has very interesting
facts about some different LGBT members of the government community from history.
I'd like to remind everyone that, next week, we will be hosting a lunch-and-learn on financial
planning for the LGBT employees, as well as for straight allies and anyone else who would
like to attend. That will be on June 28th at 11:30 in room 1350. If you're not in the
TRB, you can check out the email that has been sent out to find out to find out about
webcast information.
Thank you all, again, for coming.