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Stories from the Frontlines: Letters to President Barack Obama

Again, I'm participating in a project of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network publishing the letters to the President from gay troops and veterans. This is an especially important effort after last week's statement from Secretary Gates that Congress should not repeal the law until the "review" is done. The policy has been in place for 17 years. Isn't that review enough?

I also have a special plea. Please vote for me in the contest for a Democracy for America scholarship to get to Netroots Nation. If I get the scholarship, it would be a huge deal for me. I would be very grateful.

First SLDN updates us on the Gates situation:

UPDATE: DADT repeal took a "devastating blow" by the Obama Administration on Friday night. To read an update sent on Saturday by SLDN visit: http://bit.ly/arfUxB

Since our launch last Monday, we now have 35 blogs and websites participating in our letters to the president new media campaign and we continue to grow. In just one day, we had more than 144,000 hits to the campaign landing page.

The campaign website: www.sldn.org/letters

The campaign short link: http://bit.ly/coCEHY

Today's story from the front lines:

LETTER FOR MONDAY, MAY 3, 2010:

May 3, 2010

President Barack H. Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

After the recent letter by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recommended the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” be delayed, this is my plea to you on the behalf of the soldiers serving in silence to end this law now:

I never wanted anything more in my life than to be a career officer. My entire childhood I was exposed to abuse, violence, and crime. I came out of it all with a simple, yet overwhelming desire to serve. When my first attempt at getting into the Naval Academy failed, I waited restlessly until I turned eighteen. I enlisted on my birthday and set off to prove myself to the Academy. I was eager to leave the cruelty of my past and join a true family.

I knew I was gay, but it was irrelevant to me then. I was determined to join an elite team of handlers working with dogs trained to detect explosives. As I studied hard to pass exams and complete training, I was convinced that the current law would protect me. I knew that based on merit and achievement I would excel in the military.

I never told anyone I was gay. But a year and a half later while serving in the Middle East, I was tormented by my chief and fellow sailors, physically and emotionally, as they had their suspicions. The irony of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is that it protects bigots and punishes gays who comply.

Shop talk in the unit revolved around sex, either the prostitute-filled parties of days past or the escapades my comrades looked forward to. They interpreted my silence and total lack of interest as an admission of homosexuality. My higher-ups seemed to think that gave them the right to bind me to chairs, ridicule me, hose me down and lock me in a feces-filled dog kennel.

On one day in the Middle East, I was ordered by a superior to get down on my hands and knees and simulate oral sex on a person working in the kennel. We were supposed to pretend that we were in our bedroom and that the dogs were catching us in the act. Over and over, with each of the dogs in our unit, I was forced to endure this scenario.

I told no one about what I was living through. I feared that reporting the abuse would lead to an investigation into my sexuality. Frankly, as we continue to delay the repeal of this horrible law, I can’t help but wonder how many people find themselves in similar, despicable situations and remain silent. My anger today doesn’t come from the abuse, but rather from the inhumanity of a standing law that allowed for it.

Three and a half years later when the Navy started investigating claims of hazing, I had finally earned my place at the Naval Academy Preparatory School. But instead of celebration, I began to question the life of persecution, degradation, and dishonor DADT had forced on me. I questioned the institution -- our great military -- that would condone and endorse this kind of treatment of its own members. The only thing I had ever done wrong was to want the same thing my straight counterparts wanted: a brotherhood and something to stand for.

At NAPS I realized that a career of service under DADT would be a forfeiture of my basic human rights. It would be a forfeiture of basic job security, peace of mind, and meaningful relationships, particularly with my fellow straight service members whom I was forced

to deceive and betray.

After completing a six-week officer candidate boot camp, my commanders said they wanted to offer me a leadership role. But after what happened in the Middle East and even the suicide of my close friend, I was mentally and emotionally depleted. And so -- with my knees buckling -- I offered my statement of resignation in writing:

"I am a homosexual. I deeply regret that my personal feelings are not compatible with Naval regulations or policy. I am proud of my service and had hoped I would be able to serve the Navy and the country for my entire career. However, the principles of honor, courage and commitment mean I must be honest with myself, courageous in my beliefs, and committed in my action. I understand that this statement will be used to end my Naval career."

They say some people are just born designed for military service. It‘s the way we are wired, and the only thing that makes us happy. For too many of us, it‘s the only family we ever had. I am sure now, more than ever, after all the loss and hardship under DADT, that all I want to do is serve as a career military officer.

Mr. President, any delay in repeal is a clear signal to our troops that their gay brothers and sisters in arms are not equal to them. I plead that you take the lead -- fight for repeal -- and allow qualified men and women to serve their country.

Very respectfully,

Joseph Christopher Rocha

Former Petty Officer Third Class, U.S. Navy


Thanks for reading.

“Stories from the Frontlines: Letters to President Barack Obama” is a new media campaign launched to underscore the urgent need for congressional action and presidential leadership at this critical point in the fight to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). Every weekday morning as we approach the markup of the Defense Authorization bill in the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, SLDN and a coalition of voices supporting repeal, will share an open letter to the President from a person impacted by this discriminatory law. We are urging the President to include repeal in the Administration’s defense budget recommendations, but also to voice his support as we work to muster the 15 critical votes needed on the Senate Armed Services Committee to include repeal. The Defense Authorization bill represents the best legislative vehicle to bring repeal to the president’s desk. It also was the same vehicle used to pass DADT in 1993. By working together, we can help build momentum to get the votes! We ask that you forward and post these personal stories.

Comments

John said…
Okay, that was a sad one. When will people realize that gays and lesbians aren't enlisting in the military because dating websites have failed them? They want to help their country just like anyone else.

I think the average person might still be a little scared of the idea of a "masculine" or "muscular" gay person. In everyday society it's easy to just ignore the skinny-as-a-rail gay man who just made a pass at you: but what happens when the person who's interested could bench-press you above their head? Suddenly that becomes (for some reason) much more threatening.

Gay doesn't equal irrational. We can take no for an answer.
Ameriqueer said…
Like Emmett Honey cut said when Michael Novotny said "they'll afraid we'll recruit."

I PREFER MEN WHO HAVE ALREADY ENLISTED! ;-)

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