Former Naval Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason Knight, a linguist who served openly during two enlistments in the US Navy, is to join forces with pressure group the Servicemembers Legal Defence Network.
SLDN are working for repeal of the American military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual personnel.
Petty Officer Knight came out to his command and was subsequently discharged from the Navy in 2005.
After being recalled to active duty, Knight is now finishing a scheduled one-year tour in Kuwait with Naval Customs Battalion Bravo.
Service members discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are not allowed to return to the services. The Navy has declined to comment on the case.
Knight’s story has captured widespread media attention in recent weeks after he initially told about his experience, of serving openly during a 10-month deployment to Kuwait, to the military newspaper Stars Stripes.
“I spent four years in the Navy, buried fallen service members as part of the Ceremonial Guard, served as a Hebrew Linguist in Navy Intelligence, and received awards for exemplary service,” he wrote in a letter to the newspaper.
“However, because I was gay, the Navy discharged me and recouped my $13,000 sign-on bonus.
“Nine months later, the Navy recalled me to active duty. Did I accept despite everything that happened? Of course I did, and I would do it again. Because I love the Navy and I love my country.”
In fact, many of Knight’s colleagues spoke out in support of him.
“He’s better than the average sailor at his job,” Bill Driver, the leading petty officer of Knight’s 15-person customs crew in Kuwait, told the paper.
“It’s not at all a strange situation. As open as he is now, it was under wraps for quite a while. It wasn’t an issue at work.”
Knight will join SLDN as an exclusive member of the group’s national speakers’ bureau, will be featured in the SLDN national ad campaign, and will kick-off his work with the organisation during a June 5th visit to Washington, D.C., to meet with Congressional staff and SLDN supporters.
“We are enormously proud to have a passionate advocate like Jason joining us in our outreach, education and media campaigns,” said Steve Ralls, director of communications for SLDN.
“Jason’s experience obliterates the notion that lesbian and gay Americans cannot serve openly while making a positive impact on our armed forces.
“We look forward to working with Jason to continue telling his story. He is a powerful advocate for repeal whose story shows just how absurd and unnecessary this law really is.”
Knight will kick off his work with SLDN next week, in Washington where he will speak with Congressional staffers during the afternoon of June 5th and then keynote an SLDN reception at the National Women’s Democratic Club.
He will also begin appearing in SLDN’s “Lift the Ban” national advertising campaign, which features service members and veterans impacted by the law.
“I am thrilled to be joining Servicemembers Legal Defence Network in their work to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” Knight said.
“I loved my time in the Navy, and was honoured to serve my country.
“Now, I am called to service in a new way, speaking on behalf of those silenced by this un-American law and working on behalf of the freedom to serve.”
Since 1993 over 11,000 members of the Marines, Navy, Army, Coast Guard and Air Force have been discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”