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Iraq War veteran urges students to speak out
Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, a former U.S. Marine, used the inspiring words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when talking to Quinnipiac students about how their voices can change history, by standing up for what is right.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter,” said Alva, who visited Quinnipiac on April 15 in conjunction with the National Day of Silence, held on Friday, April 25, which brings attention to anti-Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transsexual (GLBT) actions from throughout the country.
Alva, 37, who is now openly gay, served in the Armed Forces for more than 13 years, which included time in the Middle East during the beginning of the Iraq War. It was during one of the first missions into Iraq that Alva was severely wounded by a landmine, causing a broken arm and two broken legs, one of which had to be amputated.
“I was only in Iraq for about three hours,” said Alva, who received hospital visits from the likes of George W. Bush, Michael Jordan, and Sheryl Crow for being the first soldier wounded in the Iraq War.
With this newfound notoriety, Alva began to speak out against the controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy of the US Army, a rule that doesn’t allow soldiers to be openly homosexual while serving in the Armed Forces.
“‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is the only bill the United States has that tells people to not be themselves,” Alva said. Alva stated that more than 12,000 soldiers have been discharged since the bill was approved in 1993, which doesn’t include the soldiers that have left because of an inability to cope with this policy.
Alva now works with the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest GLBT-advocacy group, in hopes of passing the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. He is hopeful that Congress will look back on similar issues from the past and make the right decision.
“We used the same argument for Blacks and women – that there would be a lack of cohesion,” said Alva. “But look at us today, we have moved on.”
Alva also explained to the audience that the U.S. Army allows soldiers in on “moral waivers”, which allows people convicted of murder, burglary, and other violent crimes to join the Army. These are the things that admittedly drive Alva to fight for the repeal, and his feelings were heard loud and clear by the audience.
“I really liked the honesty and the openness he spoke with,” said William Jellison, an assistant professor of psychology and faculty advisor for Quinnipiac’s Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Supporters (GLASS). “You could tell it wasn’t scripted, he really is passionate about what he says.”
Alva reiterated his point of speaking out by telling the audience to respect all those around them and hopefully being respected in return.
“We all deserve to be treated with respect,” said Alva. “Nobody owns your happiness, so live life to the fullest.”
The event was hosted by GLASS, the QU Democrats, the Latino Cultural Society, the Multicultural Events Committee and Students Helping & Advocating Diversity Education (SHADES) as part of their first annual “Break the Silence” campaign.
“We really want to get more exposure for these issues,” said Emily Weed, co-president of GLASS. “Eric did a great job and was a huge help.”
Some have hopes that Alva’s words will resonate throughout the student community.
“We want that apathetic title to go away,” said Brent Sinn, co-president of GLASS. “We want students to speak up and talk about why they care.”