This story was written by Teri Ruland, The Battalion
Former Marine Staff Sergeant Eric Alva lectured on the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy of the armed forces as part of the Texas A&M Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center's Coming Out Week.
"I strongly advise people to be who they are, and do what's best for them. Not everyone is in that situation where they have the luxury of coming out, and not being discriminated against," Alva said.
He spoke about his experience and the camaraderie he experienced while he was in the military, and the day he was injured by a landmine soon after the Iraq War started. He lost one leg, broke the other, and his right arm was permanently damaged.
"After my injury, I gained the courage to speak out for equal rights," Alva said. "'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is the only law that forces people to lie about themselves. What I'm trying to do is end the discriminatory policy of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' It's called a policy, but it's actually a law."
Alva shared statistics to support the claim that there is discrimination against the GLBT community.
"There are 31 states that don't have protection laws of GLBT people. There are 39 states that don't have protection laws for the transgendered.
"When you force your prejudices on someone, that's discrimination," he said. "That's what we need to get away from once and for all. It's called being fair-minded. All men are created equal, so not all men have to live my way of life."
The reason Coming Out Day is in October is because October is GLBT History Month and has been since 1994.
"Because this month is the anniversary of the first GLBT march on Washington in 1979, this is a time where GLBT as a community can come together and educate, raise awareness and address misconceptions about the community," said Lowell Kane, program coordinator of the GLBT Resource Center.
"This is a time where we can raise awareness about many local resources available for students," Kane said. "This is the one nationally recognized day where GLBT people are encouraged to come out of the closet, be open and honest about who they are, and to know there's such a large community of GLBT people."
Every year, the GLBT resource center provides programming for coming out week.
"Our main goal is to get high-caliber expert speakers who can come talk to students about current event topics and hot-button issues right now," Kane said.
"Eric Alva was selected this year because in late 2007, and early 2008, there was a big push on the national level to repeal the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy in the United States Armed Forces. Eric has been at the forefront of the campaign and is coming to Texas A&M University only a few weeks after his most recent testimony to Congress about the discriminatory policy."
Alva's lecture focused on education of the masses.
"GLBT people love their country and want to serve their country and sacrifice for their country," Kane said. "Eric also raises awareness that upwards of 5 percent currently enlisted service people identify as GLBT and over 1 million veterans from World War II to present day [identify] as GLBT as well."
While some GLBT students may pick and choose which events to go to, others think it's a necessity to attend Alva's lecture.
"I think it's a great thing he [came] to campus where it used to be an all-male University with military history to talk about GLBT," said Vanessa Delgado, president of GLBTA and senior psychology major. "I think 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is extremely outdated. It doesn't work. It's unfair and should be done away with. It was an easy fix, but the way society is changing, there'sno reason to be in the closet."
The reason "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was put in place was to enhance unit cohesion, Alva said.
"An organization as large as the military and as uniform as they are, cohesion won't be affected by thinking someone in your unit is gay," Delgado said. "It doesn't affect your job, just who you want to spend the rest of your life with."
Saturday is Coming Out Day, a nationally recognized day where people are encouraged to come out of the closet as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
"Coming out is an ongoing experience," Delgado said. "You come out all the time; at work, to friends and family, and different people all the time. It's an unending process, and coming out week shows the great strides that have been made. You shouldn't be forced to come out. Come out in your own time. The most important thing is that you are ready to come out. It's about being honest with yourself, and not just GLBT people; everyone."