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Pentagon Tells Recruiters to Accept Gay Applicants, but San Diegans Rejected

Omar Lopez
Omar Lopez

Last week, as I told you on this blog, Omar Lopez, who spent much of his childhood in San Diego, became the first gay former military service member in the nation to try be reinstated into the Navy after a federal judge made her preliminary decision that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' which bans people who are openly gay and lesbian from serving in the military, was unconstitutional. Omar, however, was rejected by recruiters.

But on Monday, Judge Virginia Phillips tentatively refused a Pentagon request to re-instate the 17-year-old ban, and late yesterday she issued a final decision affirming her order. Although government concerns about military readiness and cohesion are important, she acknowledged, "these interests are outweighed by the compelling public interest of safeguarding fundamental constitutional rights," she wrote in a six-page opinion.

As a result, the Pentagon has told military recruiters to accept gay applicants. 'When I found out I just said 'Oh my God.' I wanted to cheer, it made me very happy,' Lopez, 29, said in a phone interview. Currently studying hospitality services at Austin Community College, Lopez, who now lives in Austin, Texas, plans to return to a recruiting office as soon as he can get an appointment, 'hopefully by Friday,' he says. His goal is the same: to enter a Naval ROTC program in a four-year college and then become an officer. He would like to do that at either Texas A&M or the University of Houston.


But Lopez's excitement may be premature. Other gay San Diegans who've tried this week to get back in the military have been turned away for seemingly arbitrary reasons. Joseph Rocha, 24, a senior at the University of San Diego who I profiled on the blog, was dismissed from the Navy for admitting his homosexuality but has always wanted to go back. After the judge's ruling, Rocha, who enters law school in the fall, didn't waste any time. He had an appointment this morning in which he was hoping to be accepted in an ROTC program, his first step to becoming a Marine JAG officer. But Rocha was turned down.

"They told me because of the trauma I suffered in Bahrain and the fact that I was on an anti-anxiety medication, I did not qualify for re-enlistment," says Rocha. "It's so unfair. I mean they give waivers to drug addicts and gang members, the suicide rate is at an all-time high, and there are tens of thousands of people in the military right now, active duty, taking all kinds of anxiety and antidepressant medications. I've contacted (San Diego Congresswoman) Susan Davis's office and am hoping a letter will help me. I'm not giving up."

In El Cajon, William Rodriguez-Kennedy, a former Marine Corps corporal who joined the Marines at age 17, served a seven-month tour of duty in Iraq during which he was involved in combat in Ramadi, and was subsequently discharged under DADT in 2008 when a fellow marine exposed his sexual orientation, visited the Marine Corps Recruiting Office yesterday and asked to re-enlist. But Rodriguez-Kennedy, a very outspoken member of San Diego's gay community who is president of the local Log Cabin Republicans and a member of the San Diego LGBT Pride board of directors, was told there were no open slots at this time for returning Marines.

"I have prior service, and there is a quota for people who've left and want to come back," Rodriguez-Kennedy told me in a phone interview. "But I'm fighting that, because the point is I should still be active duty. I'm seeing a lawyer on Friday. I want to go back, and I don't care where they put me, I don't have any conditions. I'll even go through boot camp again if I have to. My only condition is that I don't lose my rank. I think I have a good shot. I'm still optimistic. The law is now on my side."

Dan Choi, a West Point graduate and Iraq War veteran who has been a high-profile opponent of DADT since his dismissal, announced on his Twitter page that when he showed up at a recruiting station on Tuesday to re-enlist he learned he was "too old" for the Marines. "In the recruiting station," Choi wrote on his Twitter feed. "Apparently I'm too old for the Marines! Just filled out the Army application." Choi was reportedly accepted this morning, which would make him the first openly gay man to be accepted into the U.S. military, but a Defense Department spokesperson Colonel David Lapan said it may be weeks before Choi officially re-enters the service. 'Nobody joins any of the services in a few hours,' Lapan told reporters this morning, noting that the discharged lieutenant has not yet been sworn in.


There is still widespread confusion about what all this means in the long term. A Pentagon memo signed by Clifford Stanley, undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness, said gay recruits can begin the process to join but noted that "a certain amount of uncertainty now exists about the future of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' law. During the process, they (recruiters) will say, 'You have to be mindful that this could be overturned.' "

Douglas Smith, spokesman for U.S. Army Recruiting Command based at Fort Knox, Ky., told the Associated Press that before the ruling recruiters did not ask applicants about their sexual orientation. The difference now is that recruiters will process those who say they are gay. "If they were to self admit that they are gay and want to enlist, we will process them for enlistment, but will tell them that the legal situation could change," Smith said.