A 30-year-old army medic who became the first American active-duty gay service member to speak on television about life in the army as a gay man has been discharged.
Despite the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy which bans openly gay people from the US Armed Forces, Sergeant Darren Manzella told CBS 60 Minutes in December that his army colleagues and commanders knew his sexuality.
The programme also showed a video of Manzella kissing his former boyfriend.
Manzella is an army medic who had recently from Kuwait. He previously earned a Combat Medical Badge for service in Baghdad.
“My sexual orientation certainly didn’t make a difference when I treated injuries and saved lives in the streets of Baghdad,” he said of the Army’s decision to discharge him.
“It shouldn’t be a factor in allowing me to continue to serve.”
Manzella came out to his commander in 2006 because he was receiving anonymous e-mails threatening to expose him.
“They recommended that I just go back and keep doing my job,” he said.
After that, he was sent to Kuwait for his second Iraq war deployment.
His dismissal became effective on June 10th.
Gay advocacy group, the Servicemembers Legal Defence Network, has said it knows of about 500 gay army members who are serving openly without any consequences.
“The discharge of battle-tested, talented service members like Sergeant Manzella weakens our military in a time of war,” said Adam Ebbin, SLDN’s communications director.
“National security requires that Congress lift the ban on gays in the military and allow commanders to judge troops on their qualifications, not their sexuality.”
More than 12,000 troops have been dismissed under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law approved by former President Bill Clinton in 1993, at an estimated cost of more than $363 million (£182.6m).
The policy prohibits anyone who “demonstrates a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts” to serve in the US forces.
Serving gay men and lesbians are also not allowed to tell anyone about their sexual orientation or relationships.
“A lot of service members are getting ‘wink-wink’ treatment from their commanders,” said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Centre at the University of California, which studies the policy.
In May the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said that Congress, and not the military, is responsible for the ban on openly lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans from military service.
Speaking to graduating cadets at West Point military academy, Admiral Mike Mullen said that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a law that the Armed Forces follow.
“Should the law change, the military will carry that out too,” he said.
An estimated 65,000 lesbian and gay service members serve on active duty and in the reserves of the United States military, according to SLDN.
During his Senate confirmation hearing last year, Admiral Mullen told lawmakers:
“I really think it is for the American people to come forward, really through this body, to both debate that policy and make changes, if that’s appropriate.
“I’d love to have Congress make its own decisions with respect to considering repeal.”
The most senior US military veteran in the House of Representatives has called for an end to the ban.
Democrat Congressman Joe Sestak, who served 31 years in the Navy, retiring with the rank of three-star Admiral, is one of seventeen veterans in Congress who want to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Nearly 150 of his Congressional colleagues have lent their support to the Military Readiness Enhancement Act which would repeal that law and allow lesbian, gay and bisexual personnel to serve openly.
In March US Presidential candidate Barack Obama told leading gay publication The Advocate he supports a repeal of the gay ban and is hopeful it can be achieved.
Polls show that 79% of Americans support allowing gays to serve openly.