A decorated US Army veteran who was honourably discharged after challenging the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law is making a bid for national office.

Anthony Woods, a graduate of West Point, earned the Bronze Star and served two tours in Iraq.

He is one of six candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for California’s 10th Congressional District.

A special election will be held in November to replace Ellen Tauscher, who has been confirmed by the US Senate for the role of Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest LGBT rights group, and Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which supports openly LGBT elected officials, have both backed his candidacy.

The California 10th covers the East Bay region of San Francisco and is a Democrat stronghold.

Mr Woods is facing strong competition from fellow Democrats John Garamendi, California’s Lieutenant Governor and State Senator Mark DeSaulnier.

He was discharged after telling his commanding officer he is gay – the Army have informed him they intend to bill him $35,000 for the education he received while in uniform.

Under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, no member of the US Armed Forces can be openly gay, lesbian or bisexual. Since it was instituted in 1993 nearly 13,000 LGB personnel have been sacked.

An African-American, Mr Woods rose to the rank of captain.

“The Human Rights Campaign is proud to endorse Anthony Woods, a veteran of the Iraq war and steadfast advocate for our community, to become the next U.S. Congressman from California’s 10th district,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese.

“Anthony hasn’t just shown his support on issues of LGBT equality, he’s lived them — especially the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ Anthony’s support of marriage equality will also be important as we work to repeal Proposition 8, which stripped marriage rights away for California’s same-sex couples. There is no doubt that Anthony will be a role model for LGBT youth, and we applaud his continuing service to our country.”

Chuck Wolfe, president of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said:

“Anthony Woods is an exciting candidate with a tremendous record of accomplishment. He’s also running an impressive campaign. Anthony has assembled a solid campaign team that understands what it will take to win this extremely competitive race. We need more leaders like Anthony Woods in the U.S. Congress, so we are proud to endorse him.

“His will be an authentic voice not only for the people of California’s 10th Congressional District, but for the millions of Americans for whom the promise of equality remains unfulfilled.”