Discharged Vet Sounds Off

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

The BE HEARD Section of our website regularly features statements and stories from a wide variety of NOH8 Supporters talking about what their involvement in the campaign means to them and what got them involved in the first place. Each story accompanies their NOH8 photo, sharing the meaning behind each of those portraits - and it's a great place to gain some insight on the movement for equal rights. Today, we wanted to share the story of Joseph Christopher Rocha - a military veteran discharged under Don't Ask Don't Tell. In light of his article, we've included a number of military personnel that have joined our campaign. We hope you read what Joseph has to say!

For those who have taken photos with the campaign and haven't had the opportunity to put their statements together, it's not too late: simply send your story to info@noh8campaign.com with "BE HEARD" in the subject, and be sure to include a link to your photo on the website!



By Joseph Christopher Rocha

"During the photo shoot, Adam - who I first met when I discharged from the military three years ago - said to me in conversation, “You know, I never meant to be an activist. I just felt I had to do something.” I could not have bonded with him more over any other sentence. I immediately thought of that Spring day, the 27th May of 2009, when I was arrested in defiance of the California Supreme Courts decision to uphold Proposition 8’s banning gay marriage by ballot initiative.  With the American flag wrapped around my shoulders and my knees shaking, all I knew for certain was that I had reached my breaking point.

The NOH8 Campaign embodies, identically, the spirit of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Repeal movement, and any grassroots civil rights movement for that matter. Adam - a gay American citizen - reacted to social injustice the best way he knew how and changed the way people see a singular issue; forever.


A year ago, I gave my first speech in the Castro, the former home of the legendary Harvey Milk. I opened that speech by thanking our veterans for their service; I closed that speech with:

“How fortunate are we, to be a part of history.”


Lt. Dan Choi

To that effect, in just the past few years we have seen among the finest veterans take on the issue of DADT head on, under the brutal scrutiny of the public eye. There was Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, the first American wounded in Iraq, who shattered the misconception that only heterosexuals could be White House honored war heroes.  Petty Officer Jason White and Sgt. Darren Manzella, who dispelled the myth that straight troops are fundamentally incapable of serving alongside openly gay troops.  Major Whitt, who successfully argued in the courts that her discharge, not her sexuality, hurt “good order, morale, and discipline”; a case that provided the legal grounds for the advancement of full equality for the LGBT community through the courts. LT Col. Victor Fehrenbach, the combat fighter pilot who personified the detrimental loss of skill and tax dollar wastefulness of discharging our gay men and women in uniform. Lt. Dan Choi and Cadet Katherine Miller, who represent the shameful contradiction between the core values of our service academies (and each of the Armed Forces) and the dishonesty and discrimination of the DADT policy.  Mike Almy, who shocked even those who supported the policy under the principle that as long as service members kept quiet they would not be bothered, when it was revealed that he was discharged after the Air Force searched his private emails.


LT Col. Victor Fehrenbach

Each of these advocates have sacrificed a great deal of privacy and peace to contribute, each in their own powerful way, to the inevitable repeal of the downright un-American treatment of our gay men and women in uniform. I regret that I cannot name each and every brave veteran who has played an invaluable part of this fight but I am proud to repeat one of my proudest speech lines:

“In 1993, lifting the ban on gays in the military failed. It failed because America did not know what a gay service member looked like. Today, in 2010 we will end the ban; and we will succeed thanks to the thousands of men and women who have found the courage to give a face to gay service in the Armed Forces that is just as honorable, just as brave, and just as valuable to our National Defense.”


The proudest moment of my life was when I was given the honor by Log Cabin RepublicansWhite & Case Law Firm and The United States Senate, to testify in the Federal Court challenge to the Constitutionality of DADT. I was deeply humbled that day, for I knew that any of the valiant men and women of our community who had ever put on a uniform, dead or alive, could have testified in an equally compelling manner of the betrayal of DADT on our human dignity.

I testified that after serving overseas in a unit with 93 counts of abuse and nearly 27 violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and following the suicide of my mentor (all documented in a military report and confirmed to have taken place by the highest authorities in the Navy); I remain loyal to our Nation, to the Armed Forces, and most importantly, anxiously await the day I can continue my military career - a commitment that is in no way unique among the thousands of DADT discharge stories among us.


I am very proud to have the opportunity to collaborate with the NO H8 Campaign, which has awoken the activist in each and every one of us and built innumerable bridges decreasing the divide between the straight and gay communities. For as President John F. Kennedy affirmed in his Inaugural Address of Jan. 20th 1961:

“All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days; nor in the life of this Administration; nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But, LET US BEGIN."

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Each success in the fight for full equality, no matter how small, will always trump any setback; for the victories in civil rights are permanent and the losses are only temporary. Here is to the Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell this year with a vote in the Senate; a vote that, this holiday season, can singularly honor the American values that every single service member is willing to die for: liberty and justice for all."


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