Eric Alva
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Eric Alva

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The best kept secret in music


"Defending His Country, but Not Its 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Policy"

Once a Marine, always a Marine. That pretty much sums up the life of retired Sgt. Eric Alva, who was sworn into the Marine Corps at 19, stationed in Somalia and Japan and lost his right leg when he stepped on a land mine on March 21, 2003, the first day of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

As the war's first injured soldier, Alva was an instant celebrity. He was on "Oprah." President Bush awarded him the Purple Heart. Donald Rumsfeld visited. And strangers in Alva's native San Antonio still insist on paying for his dinner at Chili's. Last fall Alva, 36, contacted the Human Rights Campaign, the gay rights group, and asked to be involved in its lobbying effort. Today he'll stand alongside Rep. Martin Meehan (D-Mass.) when he introduces a bill to repeal the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy on gay, lesbian and bisexual military personnel.

Q. Why didn't you come out sooner?

A.Eventually my notoriety -- "the injured soldier" -- will wear off. And I can almost hear it now -- "Oh, yeah, he's that gay Marine." I'm okay with that. The truth is, something's wrong with this ban. I have to say something. I mean, you're asking men and women to lie about their orientation, to keep their personal lives private, so they can defend the rights and freedoms of others in this country, and be told, "Well, oh, yeah, if you ever decide to really meet someone of the same sex and you want the same rights, sorry, buddy, you don't have the right." That's one factor. The other factor is, we're losing probably thousands of men and women that are skilled at certain types of jobs, from air traffic controllers to linguists, because of this broken policy.

You come from a military family?

I come from a family of servicemen. My dad, Fidelis, is a Vietnam vet. My grandfather, also named Fidelis, was a World War II and Korean War veteran. I was named after them. My middle name is Fidelis. Fidelis means "always faithful."

What does sexual orientation -- gay, straight, bisexual -- have to do with being a soldier? A Marine?

First, thanks for recognizing that I am a Marine. Second, to answer your question, I have tons and tons of friends that were in the military at the time who knew I was gay because I confided in them. Everybody had the same reaction: "What's the big deal?" . . . The respect was still there. Your job is what you're doing at its best. Your personal life, your private life, is something you do after work. What's funny is, when I was based in San Diego, Calif., people would go to a gay club and everyone would have a haircut like mine. They had their dog tags on. But come Monday morning, nobody talked about it, nobody dealt with it, everybody was back to work.

So when you were applying to be a Marine in 1990, before "Don't ask, don't tell" was implemented, the application asked for your sexual orientation?

It did.

What did you put down?

I lied, I lied. The lying is what I hated most -- why I had to do it, why I had to keep on doing it, the toll it took on me.

You're wearing a wedding band. What do you tell people when they ask you about your wife?

That happens all the time. It just happened on my way here to Washington, waiting on the plank as I boarded a plane. This very nice woman next to me said she recognized me. She looked at my ring and asked about my wife. I told her I have a partner. His name is Darrell. She paused and said, "Good for you." - Washington Post

"Eric Alva's new battle"

On the night of March 20, 2003, Lois Alva tossed fitfully in her sleep at home in San Antonio. In a dream, she saw her son Eric speeding across a vast expanse of sun-whitened desert in a Jeep.
“In the dream,” she recalls, “his leg was sticking out the window of a vehicle.” Lois woke with a start, profoundly chilled by the surreal image, particularly on this night. After months of bellicose chest-pounding from the White House about weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and Iraqi freedom, the invasion of Baghdad was under way, and Eric’s Marine battalion was part of the first wave.
The next day Staff Sgt. Eric Alva would step on a land mine that would shatter his right arm, rip his leg from his body, and make him the first casualty of the Iraq War.
"Welcome to Texas,” says 36-year-old Eric Alva in the faintest drawl as I approach him in the San Antonio International Airport. He’s fit, tan, and dressed in cargo shorts and a T-shirt. And within seconds he’s in motion, enthusiastically taking my bags from my hands and wrangling my luggage into his car with as much dexterity as any man on two legs.
“Hey, Alva!” shouts the parking lot attendant through the glass partition. “I saw you on TV again. Keep up the good work, man. We’re all proud of you.” Blushing furiously, Alva graciously thanks the woman, then aims his beige Nissan Pathfinder into traffic, heading for the house he shares with his partner, Darrell Parsons.
Behind the wheel, Alva drives like a marine. He squints fiercely into the late-afternoon sunlight, his jaw set in a firm line. He may be retired, but military bearing is his default condition. “I grew up here and people know me,” he says modestly in response to a question about the attendant. The consummate team player, Alva is always reluctant to be seen as more heroic than any other marine.
But Alva isn’t like every other marine. In 2003, with the invasion still fresh in the minds of more optimistic Americans, the newly wounded marine was a symbol of everything noble and patriotic about the U.S. military. He was awarded the Purple Heart by Gen. William Nyland, the former assistant commandant of the Marine Corps. He was photographed with the president and first lady as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sheryl Crow. Donald Rumsfeld dropped by his hospital room for a photo op. The picture shows the former secretary of Defense towering over the frail, stone-faced marine and grinning like a great white shark.
Four years later, Alva once again distinguished himself—by coming out on Good Morning America and speaking against the military’s ruinous “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. - Michael Rowe

"Standing up for his rights Amputee veteran speaks on the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy."

Retired Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Eric Alva spent 13 years in the military defending Americans' rights and freedoms, service that included losing his right leg and suffering a mangled right hand in a land mine explosion on the first day of the Iraq invasion in 2003.

Now, Alva says, his mission is to fight for the rights of gays and lesbians in the Armed Forces, a battle he wages with words instead of bullets.
He brought that cause to the University of North Florida on Wednesday, speaking to students and faculty in two sessions about the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward homosexuals.
The policy says that gays in the military cannot be asked about their sexual orientation and that they also cannot reveal it.
RICK WILSON/The Times-Union: Eric Alva, who walks with the help of a computerized prosthetic leg, speaks Wednesday at UNF. He announced he is gay in February and became the Human Rights Campaign’s spokesman against the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
As a closeted gay man in the Marines, Alva, 36, of San Antonio, said it was frustrating to know that he was defending liberties that he could not enjoy. Gays in the military are doing the same now in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.
"They are fighting for rights but don't share in those rights," he said. "That's where I had to take a stand."
The audience was generally receptive, laughing at some of his humor and greeting him after his talk.
Alva, who walks with the help of a computerized prosthetic leg, publicly announced he is gay in February and became the Human Rights Campaign's spokesman against the military's policy.
The gay-rights organization wanted him because of his notoriety as one of the first Americans wounded in the Iraq war, he said. His military credentials and openness about his personal life have landed him on national news programs, radio and TV talk shows, including The Oprah Winfrey Show, and made him the subject of newspaper and magazine articles.
Supporters of the policy say it provides gays and lesbians the opportunity to serve without causing disruption to unit cohesion that openly gay service members might cause.
Alva says the same arguments were used to keep blacks and women out of the military and have been proven to be wrong. He said it's unfair to expect one group of people to defend the nation but not enjoy all of its blessings. Also, with combat tours being expanded in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States can hardly afford to lose personnel because of a discriminatory policy, he said.
Americans need to realize that gays, lesbians and bisexuals can and want to serve their country and shouldn't face discrimination back home.
"I am going to tell the American people who I am and what I stand for," he said. He is a wounded American veteran "and I just happen to be gay."
Alva was one of four speakers participating in a one-day "Skyrocketing to Legendary Heights" seminar, which focused on how to survive and thrive after career changes. It was sponsored by the UNF Women's Center, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center, Greek Life and the Body Image Task Force.
UNF senior Daniel Richardson of Vero Beach said it was encouraging to see someone with Alva's military background opposing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
"He can convince those who might not be convinced by a liberal college student," said Richardson, who is straight. - The Jacksonville Times-Union

"Eric Alva Testimonial"

Hi Dustin,
Thanks for following through re: Eric.
I can’t tell you how many people said that he was the best and most inspiring speaker they’ve ever heard.
I felt I got to know him personally and feel so enriched.
I couldn’t’ fall asleep last evening thinking of how inspirational he is and how he has so beautifully come to terms with who he is and what he wants to accomplish with his platform. He really is a very dear, warm and influential man/speaker/advocate.
Consider me a fan and hopefully a friend to Eric.
Thank you for connecting me to Eric, Dustin. You were there at precisely the exact moment in time to round out our Conference.

Annabel - The University of Central Florida

"Do ask, do tell"

Eric Alva lost a leg in Iraq ... and found a mission

WHEN HE LOOKS BACK ON MARCH 21, 2003 -- the day a land mine totaled his leg and broke his arm -- one image comes to Eric Alva's mind: vagrant clouds floating in the sky. He was lying on his back in the Iraqi desert, just outside of Basra. Sounds were muffled. Smoke tinged the air.

Alva gripped his arm, which was wracked with pain. He noticed his index finger was missing. Then soldiers and medics were leaning over him, using gauze to try to stop the bleeding.

"I didn't know exactly where I was bleeding from or how bad it was," said Alva, who was in the Marines. "The one image that stands out were the clouds. I looked up at them, thinking this was it. I was thinking that I didn't get to say goodbye to anyone. It just looked up at the sky and thought, I'm going to die right here."

But Alva -- the first U.S. soldier wounded in the war in Iraq -- didn't die. His leg was amputated, he was awarded a Purple Heart and he was discharged from the military.

That could've been the last we heard of Alva.

But in February, in support of U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan's attempt to repeal the ban against openly gay men and women serving in the military, Alva came out of the closet. He has been speaking out against the ban, known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," ever since.

On Sept. 8 at Caesars Palace, he spoke at the Human Rights Campaign's Second-Annual Gala Dinner.

"I came out publicly to tell the people of the world that the first American wounded in the Iraq war was a gay Marine," said Alva during the dinner. "I wanted people to see that there are gay men and women fighting for the rights and freedoms of our citizens, fighting against oppression and hate. However, the ironic thing is that gay men and women who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan don't have the same rights as other soldiers. In essence, the words 'liberty and justice for all' have exclusion in our country."

Alva said partners of gay and lesbian soldiers aren't notified if the soldiers are killed in combat. He also said soldiers aren't notified if their partners are killed, for example, in a car accident.

"How cruel and unjust is that for people who are defending this country?" asked Alva.

He also said the U.S. military is allowing convicted criminals to serve, while continuing to ban openly gay men and women.

"It's like the GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender] community is treated less than second-class citizens, less than criminals. What's really ironic is that the United States is looked at as an example for the rest of the world, especially in Iraq. We're there promoting democracy and telling their citizens to live like us, to treat each other equally. It's hypocritical, because we don't treat each other equally."

Alva said there are about 65,000 gays and bisexuals in the U.S military. And hundreds of thousands more have served in the past 200 years.

It's time for the United States to follow the lead of Great Britain, Australia, Canada and other countries and let openly gay men and women serve, said Alva. Assemblyman David Parks, who is gay and also served in the military, agreed.

"All you need to look at is the 30 or so other nations that let openly gay recruits serve," said Parks. "The issue has been addressed by that many other nations, and it's not a problem for them. We have Canadian troops in Iraq and Canada doesn't discriminate, and we never hear about any problems with that.

"It's definitely long overdue."

Added U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, "I'm opposed to the policy of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' I think every American has an obligation to their country, whether they're gay or straight. It's part of the rights and responsibility of being an American citizen. If you are called to duty, then you go and it shouldn't matter if you are gay or straight. It's unforgivable for the military to discriminate in that way."

Parks, Berkley and Harrah's executive and former Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones were honored at the dinner. About 700 people attended the event -- tickets were $250 per person and $2,500 for a table of 10 -- which raised money and awareness to help stop discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.

"My friends, we must continue to live bravely and without fear or shame," said Alva, toward the end of his 15-minute speech. "We must continue to fight for equality in every way we can and we must always stand with pride and dignity, just as I stand here tonight on two good legs again. Ladies and gentlemen, I am a gay man who survived the war -- a man who survived a battle only to come home to fight another one for equality." - CityLife




Feeling a bit camera shy


Human Rights Campaign Spokesman & Retired Staff Sergeant and Iraq War Veteran

Eric Alva was born in San Antonio, Texas in December 1970. Upon graduation from high school in 1989, he attended community college for two semesters, but then decided to join the United States Marine Corps. After serving in Somalia during Operation Restore Hope, and ten years of being stationed in Japan and California, Alva was called upon to serve in the Iraq War.

In January 2003, in the build-up to the war, Alva’s unit, the 3rd Battalion 7th Marines, was deployed to the Middle East. His unit was among the first to cross the border of Kuwait into Iraq for the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Three hours into the ground war, near the city of Basra, his unit stopped to rest. While stepping out of his vehicle, Alva triggered a landmine. The violent explosion threw him 15 feet from the vehicle, and left him with a broken left leg; a torn open, severely nerve-damaged broken right arm; and a badly injured right leg that was later amputated. He had become the first American wounded in the war, and the war’s first Purple Heart recipient.

After 13 years of military service, retiring as a Staff Sergeant, Alva went back to college to finish his degree. While at school, he decided to be true to himself and help others, coming out as gay. On February 28, 2007, he joined Congressman Martin Meehan in introducing the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, a bill designed to repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. With this step, he openly admitted to the military and the world that he is a gay man, and one that had served and proudly sacrificed for his country. Alva took a courageous step towards fighting for the rights of GLBT Americans, and in particular, for those who have served and are serving in the military, but are unable to be true to themselves. His goal is to help achieve civil rights for all citizens of the United States.

Alva is the national spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign fight to repeal the military’s discriminatory GLBT policy. He is also part of the nationwide tour, “Legacy of Service” to speak out against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Since coming out, he has been featured on Good Morning America, Anderson Cooper 360°, Live with Paula Zahn, Newsweek, USA Today, and numerous other newspaper and radio stations across the country.

Among Alva’s awards and recognitions for his service is the 2003 Heroes and Heritage Award from La Raza, the 2004 Hero’s Among Us award from People magazine, the 2004 Patriot Award from the city of San Antonio, and the 2007 Public Citizen Award from the National Association of Social Workers.

Alva is currently studying social work at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, where he lives with his partner Darrell and their two dogs, Champ and Bo. He will graduate from college in 2008, and then hopes to pursue a career working with diverse groups and continuing to work towards social justice.