By Thomas Regan
The Rider News sat down with Sgt. Eric Alva before he spoke to a public forum on Feb. 17 about his experiences as a gay member of the military.
Q: What led you to the military?
Alva: After high school, I really didn’t want to go to college. I didn’t want to continue my education because I didn’t want to be in school and I didn’t know what I wanted to do after I graduated. Most of my friends in my senior class that were in band with me were joining the Marine Corps and I got the itch as well.
Q:Can you describe your experiences there?
Alva: We’d be on the rifle range or we’d be throwing grenades and it would be hard because someone would automatically say, “Great, they’re going to allow those faggots into the marine corps” and someone else would say, “We can use them as target practice.” People were very cruel.
Q: What prompted you to be a part of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act and overturn the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy?
Alva: The Human Rights Campaign contacted me and said I could help them. They asked if I’d ever heard of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and I said, “Well of course.” They said, “We think in July or August, Congressman Martin Meehan will introduce a bill called the Military Readiness Enhancement Act and it will start the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’” On Feb. 28, Human Rights Campaign had told me to go to Washington to sit next to him and tell my story.
Q: Do you think your efforts in abolishing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” sparked other changes, such as the legalization of gay marriage?
Alva: I used to give speeches and I used to say, “If we repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ we’re going to open Pandora’s box.” And what I meant by that is that then we are going to have to deal with same-sex marriage because you’re going to have people who are legally married in some states now serve in the military together. Now you’re going to have to deal with the issue of base housing, the issue of benefits.
Q: What is the central theme you would like to communicate those at Rider?
Alva: This is the one life we have. After losing my leg, I thought my life was over. I’m not going to lie to you; I wanted to kill myself. But here I am, I lost my leg, but I still have my other leg and two arms. As the war went on and I started to see people from the military come back missing both their legs and then I saw people missing an arm and a leg and I thought to myself, “You really don’t have it bad.” So I stress to always be thankful for what you have.