Day after day, since the first troops arrived in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq in 2003, mainstream news outlets have honored fallen U.S. servicemembers.
Those hometown hero reports have not identified fallen servicemembers as gay, but statisticians estimate that about 200 gay and lesbian servicemembers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The same policy that requires gays to lie about their sexual orientation while on active duty distorts the stories of their lives after their deaths, according to U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., who in a recent floor speech read a letter from a gay soldier in Iraq who learned that a fellow soldier was gay only after he was killed by an improvised explosive device.
The letter read, “I’ve had to face the DADT issue not just because I am gay – an immutable characteristic that is no more a choice for me than someone could choose their race – but because I’ve had four gay men in my command who I have known to be gay. I knew about two of them because they believed that living a lie was counter to their ethical charge as soldiers. … I knew about another because he was outed by an evangelical roommate who had ‘baited’ him into admitting it.… And, I knew about the fourth one because after he died of wounds from an IED, his partner of four years wrote me … to tell me how much (he) loved the Army, how we were the only family he’d ever known.”
Moran, referring to the soldier’s letter and DADT, said, “This issue is a matter of integrity. This immutable human trait, sexual orientation, like the color of one’s skin, does not affect one’s integrity, their honor or their commitment to their country. Soldiers serving their country in combat should not have their sacrifices compounded by having to struggle with an antiquated ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. Let’s do the right and honorable thing and repeal this policy.”
Moran could not identify the soldier who wrote the letter, signed only “Mountain Soldier.” Nor could the congressman identify the deceased soldier.
To date, one soldier killed in Iraq has been publicly identified as gay – Army Maj. Alan G. Rogers of Hampton, Fla., who was fatally wounded by an IED while on patrol in Baghdad in January 2008.
Rogers, who received a Purple Heart posthumously and his second Bronze Star, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full honors. His commanding officer wrote to Rogers’ family, “As God would have it he shielded two men who probably would have been killed if Alan had not been there.”
Mainstream news reports, hailing Rogers as a national hero, contained remembrances of the solder as exceptional, brilliant, religious, calming and compassionate and detailed the soldier’s childhood, career and interests, even his effort to raise money to buy a Persian rug for a gift for a friend. But Rogers was not identified as a gay man until gay friends came forward to salute his service, as well as his personal opposition to DADT.
The Memorial Day following Rogers’ death, Steve Ralls of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays memorialized his friend: “He was brave in every sort of way. He deplored silence and understood all too well its impact. He felt the pain and isolation it could create. Those who spend so much time and energy propping up the military’s gay ban have tried to cover up the real, and significant, contribution that gay and lesbian Americans make to our Armed Forces.
“In the meantime, gay service members are fighting and – as we now know – dying on the battlefield in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world. Their stories are irrefutable proof of the disrespect and dishonor DADT imposes on our men and women in uniform.”