by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
When the House voted to pass legislation last week that could begin to unravel the Gay military ban, there was cause to celebrate. Headlines across the country told the tale of jubilation. However, as historic as the vote for repeal may be, the cold, hard truth is that 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' (DADT), the 13-year-old law requiring Gays, Lesbians, and Bisexuals to keep mum about their sexual orientation, is alive and well. The estimated 70,000 Gays and Lesbians currently serving in the armed forces are still required to 'shut up' or 'get out.' To date, over 14,000 have been booted out because they were 'caught' being Gay or Lesbian.
The "compromise" between the Obama administration and Congress, with Pentagon top brass having their say as well, has got many Gay and Lesbian servicemembers - active duty and force-retired - hopping mad. One such servicemember is former U.S. sailor Reyes Lozoya, 25, of Kirkland, Washington.
A SAILOR WITH PRIDE
"I loved my time in the Navy. It built my character to what it is today," Lozoya told SGN. "I learned many valuable lessons while I was a sailor, including leadership skills, organizational management, time management, and philosophy. My proudest days were when I was serving my country and enjoying my days in uniform."
Lozoya says he joined the Navy right out of high school in light of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. He joined at the bottom of the ranks and dreamed of working his way up. Dedicating himself to service, he eventually became a petty officer third class.
"When it was finally my time," he recalled, "I scored in the top 99th percentile of my advancement exam. I felt like I was on top of the world when the commanding officer handed me my advancement certificate."
For Lozoya, those proud days were numbered. In December of 2005, after the Navy investigated him for "engaging in homosexual conduct," Lozoya was stripped of his rank, uniform, and the promise of being a career Navy man.
"How, exactly, Navy commanders found out about my sexuality is still somewhat of a mystery," he admits.
Although Lozoya's story is not too terribly different from others who've suffered the same fate under DADT, his story does show just how bizarrely the policy is administered. In the end, Lozoya alleges he was kicked out because of love - expressed in a picture where he and his lover (then boyfriend, now husband) were embraced in a passionate kiss.
DADT INVESTIGATION LEADS TO DISCHARGE
Four days after being promoted, Lozoya was sent to the command judge advocate general (JAG officer) aboard his ship, the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. Minutes later, aboard ship in the middle of the ocean, the command JAG told him he would be processed out of the Navy for violating DADT.
"It was the most heartbreaking 10 seconds of my life," Lozoya told SGN. "It all happened so fast that I didn't even have time to ask what happened."
Lozoya says that while he was on deployment, the only way for him to keep in touch with his partner was through e-mail exchanges. "Through e-mail, we were able to keep in constant contact and share everything we could," he said. "I never deleted my e-mails, but the fact remained that they were love letters from another male and not consistent with the DADT policy."
Here is where it gets bizarre. According to the Department of Defense, all e-mail aboard ship or on military intranets are subject to search at any time because it is considered official government property. Knowing this, Lozoya admits to creating multiple sub-folders to store the correspondence from his partner, to stay under the radar of constant monitoring by the ship's network administrators. Lozoya says, "Everyone was doing it. It was nothing different than what the average heterosexual male sitting next to me was doing with his wife's or girlfriend's e-mails."
"As the months went by, my boyfriend and I would share our deepest thoughts. We would send each other pictures of ourselves, with friends and family, where we are and what we are doing, just so the humanity behind the letters remained," he told SGN. "I kept everything hidden in my folders so that when I felt lonely, I had something to remind myself of what I was serving for."
During one of his short visits home, Lozoya and his partner took several touching pictures together. "I loved those pictures," he said, "and just like the other pictures, I stored them in my sub-folder on the ship."
Tucked away and out of sight, the mementos were safe - or so Lozoya thought.
Someone from the Internal Security Systems Management division on his ship had found the pictures, e-mails, and romantic love letters, and send them to the command JAG, ultimately leading to Lozoya being kicked out of the Navy for violating DADT.
"My entire story - at least what I was able to type out before becoming consumed with emotion - is posted to my Facebook Group, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell: In my own words,'" Lozoya said.
Currently, Lozoya has returned to school and is in a registered domestic partnership with his husband. "I am a registered domestic partner, but I do not like that term. It seems too 'otherish' and 'separate but equal' to me," he said. "I call my partner my husband because that is the role he plays in my life. We have been a couple for almost six years and have been registered with the state for two years. We met while I was in the Navy, and he was my supporter during my discharge."
Lozoya admits that while he was on active duty he was out to his peers, but says that that is not what led to his discharge from military service. "I never once pushed my agenda or beliefs on anyone, and had a large group of friends. My shipmates never seemed to be bothered by my sexuality. It was never a problem, not even for my roommate who had never known anyone that was Gay. Even the JAG told me that kicking people out for being Gay was something he hated about his role in the military."
A HUNGER STRIKE IN SOLIDARITY
At 10:30 p.m. on the night of May 27, at a private home in northwest Washington D.C., army Lieutenant Dan Choi and Captain Jim Pietrangelo began a lengthy hunger strike.
Choi, a West Point graduate, fluent Arabist and Iraq veteran who's become the lead activist demanding that DADT be repealed, said they would fast in pursuit of equality and dignity.
"We have three demands of President Barack Obama," Choi said in a statement released on May 27. "We demand an end to the comprehensive working group study, which insults the dignity of all Americans; end DADT discharges forever; and replace all discriminatory regulations in the military with a comprehensive non-discrimination policy."
"When I first heard the hunger strike was being done by the brave soldiers, I felt a need to do the same and show my support of the cause," Lozoya told SGN. "The feelings I had of being stripped of my uniform as a U.S. sailor were like being told I couldn't eat anymore. I was hungry for my rights to serve this country and felt that echoing those feelings of emptiness when I was dismissed so that others could see and hear my sentiments were necessary and just. Though I couldn't hold out as long as I would've liked [Lozoya fasted for four days], I know the passion I displayed while fasting in front of my friends and family was enough to inspire them to help push towards full equality in the armed forces."
"Dan Choi is an inspiration to me. If I had the means and resources to be out there standing shoulder-to-shoulder with him, I would be there without hesitation," he admitted. "Some people might act fast to criticize what he is doing. Some might say he is taking things too far and pushing certain boundaries that weren't meant to be pushed. When I reflect upon the injustice and indignities done to others who have suffered discrimination and how they responded with non-violent protest, I fail to see how the lieutenant is taking things too far."
As of press time, Choi and Pietrangelo continue their hunger strike.
A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
Lozoya says he feels we are headed in the right direction to repeal DADT so that others won't have to suffer the same trials and tribulations he did as a result of his discharge. Still, he agrees with Choi that the compromise between the administration and the Pentagon does not benefit the needs of the military.
"I do not feel that this 'compromise' suits the needs of our women who are in the middle of two wars because it keeps them anxiously waiting," he said. "Those moments of anxiety are detrimental to a human being's morale."
Lozoya points to his own experience as an example, saying, "I remember when I was in my discharge process awaiting my separation from the Navy. For six months, I had to walk around on eggshells, not knowing when or where my board would be held. Not knowing what I would face. Not knowing who I would face. Not knowing how I would walk out of there. I felt it was an intimidation tactic to get me to finally admit to being Gay. Those six months of anxiety hammered my spirit. Just imagine what that would be like for a marine or soldier on the front lines, carrying their assault rifles and watching out for the enemy & waiting to hear the future of their life."
Lozoya believes it is a Constitutional right for Americans to serve their country in the armed forces. "It is the Constitutional right of the Government to draft and conscript able-bodied persons into service to defend the country in times of war. It is not in the Constitution for the Government to dictate who is compatible to serve based on their sexual orientation," he said. "I believe that Gays and Lesbians make up some of the most passionate Americans in the country. When someone from our community chooses to protect this country, you better believe they are going to do it with style and grace, finesse and success, dignity and respect."
Lozoya says that the hetero-sexist and homophobic dilemma, which is being made to be the front of the issues in repealing DADT, has been overly polarized. "It is regrettable that in America in 2010, we are still faced with so much hatred towards groups of individuals, which causes laws to be put in place, segregating them from the superior heterosexual white males of our country & of whom I seldom saw serving as enlisted members of the armed forces."
"My mission when I was a sailor was to defend freedom and democracy and the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic," Lozoya said. "DADT, as a written policy, remains an enemy of the State, and I will not quit until it is laid to rest."
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