When Eric Alva (far right) stepped out of his jeep and onto a landmine at the onset of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he became the first American service member seriously wounded in that conflict.
But as a gay Marine under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, he faced a veritable minefield every day he was in the Corps.
Alva’s injuries cost him his right leg, but gave him a platform to discuss the unfairness of DADT before a national audience. He had kept his sexuality secret, even after meeting President Bush, appearing in People magazine and going on Oprah. But the love of a good man encouraged Alva to stand up and be counted: After beginning a relationship with boyfriend Darrell Parsons, who encouraged him to tell his unique story, Alva came out publicly and began speaking on behalf of lesbian and gay soldiers in the runup to the repeal of DADT.
“I am an American who fought for his country and for the rights and freedoms of all American citizens, not just some of them, but all of them,” Alva says. “When I was injured, everybody didn’t stop, the people who knew me—that I was gay—to say, ‘Well he’s gay. Don’t help him. Let’s not save his life.’ They were saving the life of an American.”