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Former soldier Anthony Woods on Don't Ask, Don't Tell

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

With California Democrat Ellen Tauscher heading to the State Department, former Army captain and West Point grad Anthony Woods has set his sights on her congressional seat. After two tours in Iraq, Woods came out of the closet and had to leave the military. Outlook's Rachel Dry spoke with him about the Obama administration's position on gay rights, the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots and why "don't ask, don't tell" is the least of the president's problems. Excerpts:

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Why did you decide to come out?

That was one of the toughest choices I had to make in my entire life. I struggled with it, because I knew that my decision would ultimately cost me something that I really loved -- my career in the military. And you know I weighed that with the very real fact that the "don't ask, don't tell" policy is asking people to lie, and there's something that's fundamentally wrong with a policy that's encouraging people to compromise their integrity and to lie about who they are.

When it was first implemented, the policy was allegedly supposed to preserve morale and unit cohesion. How does that fit in with your experience in Iraq?

The thing that soldiers care about is, is their leader competent and does he or she care about them. And if they had a choice between a straight superior who was not very good at their job or a gay superior who was very good at their job, I think they would choose the one who's going to help ensure that they come home to their families.

You volunteered for the Obama campaign. What do you think of his administration's position on gay rights?

My response to anyone who would want to complain about the speed in which he's doing things is, yes, I want him to come around on issues that are important to me from a personal perspective, but he's got to confront climate change, the economy, we've got wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are things that they've had eight years to undo and he's had a few months to get us back on the right direction.

How long will it take for "don't ask, don't tell" to be history?

Of all the huge problems that he's confronting, I actually think this one is the easiest. Look, we're a country at war fighting in two different places and trying to combat terrorism all around the world. We need every able-bodied American who wants to serve their country to be allowed to do so.

What is it like talking to California voters about gay rights issues?

People are frustrated with Proposition 8 [outlawing gay marriage in California], and I share their frustrations. Prop 8 is going to be defeated in the future when we build a coalition of African Americans and Hispanics and folks from every swath of life in California.

A number of stories after the election speculated that increased turnout among African American voters helped lead to the passage of Proposition 8.

It's not at all helpful for the LGBT community, right or wrong, to scapegoat the African American community. That's the exact group of people who you need to speak to immediately and get them on board. What I hope I can do in the future is be a bridge for that. I'm a member of both of those communities and that's how we're going to be able to start speaking to each other in a language we both understand.

What's your sense of the gay rights movement now, on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots?

I think we're making very real progress, and I think there is still reason to be optimistic and excited, because we do have a pretty fantastic president in office, and I do believe that he wants to get things right on issues that are important to the LGBT community.

People have been saying that your life is a little bit too much like a made-for-TV movie.

Yeah, I get that sometimes. I guess when you put anyone's life in one sentence it sounds a bit much. For me it's just, you know, this is my life and it's been a fun journey. It is what it is.


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