By Denver Donchez
Retired Staff Sergeant, Eric Alva never expected to be the first soldier in the Iraq War to receive a Purple Heart medal. He also never expected to be a leading figure in the repeal of the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, but sometimes life has bigger plans than what we anticipate for ourselves.
In 2003, Alva stepped on a landmine and became the first U.S. soldier to be wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Despite his injuries, he continued to serve in the armed forces for more than a decade before retiring and going on to college. Once there, he said he felt it was time to reconcile his identities as a Catholic-raised Hispanic, former soldier and gay man.
Alva came out to friends and family after serving his country, and eventually went on to become a national spokesperson for The Human Rights Campaign which helped put an end to the military’s longstanding policy of barring openly gay individuals.
Alva spoke about his unique experiences as a gay war hero at Texas State’s annual Women and Gender Research Collaborative last Friday.
This dialogue series is hosted every March by the Center for Diversity and Gender Studies, and works in conjunction with Texas State’s Common Experience. This year’s theme was “A Century of Conflict,” and focused on issues related to gender, intersectionality and militarism.
Eric Alva and Dr. Patricia Shields were the two keynote speakers, but the symposium included a variety of different panels ranging from activism and resistance, to disability and mental health education.
The Women and Gender Research Collaborative was founded in 2008 and promotes scholarship on gender issues through publications, conferences and annual symposiums.
Featured image by Denver Donchez.