Outlook: 'I Didn't Tell. It Didn't Matter.'

Joseph Rocha
Joseph Rocha

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Joseph Rocha
Former Navy Enlistee and Advocate for Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell
Tuesday, October 13, 2009; 1:00 PM

Joseph Rocha, former Navy enlistee and advocate for repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, were online Tuesday, Oct. 13, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss his Outlook article titled 'I Didn't Tell. It Didn't Matter.'

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Joseph Rocha: Good morning readers. This is Joseph Rocha joining you live for any questions and comments you may have one this Sunday's Outlook piece. Thank you for logging on.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: How do you propose we go about making our military safe for GLBT citizens to serve? In essence can we effectively change the military culture enough, that we are not sending people in to a lions' den?

Joseph Rocha: US Armed Forces boot camp is unmatched in its ability to produce young men and women who learn to set aside their differences for professionalism and mission readiness. There is no doubt in my mind that when the new policy is implemented, LGB citizens will be just as safe serving alongside minorities and women. There will always be individual exceptions, but the institution itself will be safe for our community members to serve in after the new policy is implemented.

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Ithaca, N.Y.: How long do you personally think it will be before DADT is repealed, and in the meantime, what can lesbian and gay service members do right now to help in the fight for equality? Do they sit back in the closet and wait or promote action in some way? What way?

Joseph Rocha: If indeed the President is committed to the repeal in this term he will HAVE to allocate funding for it in the 2011 budget. This will be the true test of his promise. Then, we will see hearings in the both houses after the winter break and for see a vote in 2010. It would take another year to implement just as any new law.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Joseph - I really admire that after everything you've been through, you still believe enough in this country to serve it. That, in my mind, makes you a true hero. My question ... when "don't ask, don't tell" is finally repealed, do think gays and lesbians will feel comfortable enough to be honest, or will there still be a culture of fear?

Joseph Rocha: Thank you, I love my Country and its military. When DADT is repealed I expect NO ONE to have to come out if they do not wish. MANY professionals prefer not to even in jobs that allow for them to be gay. This is about removing the fear of losing your entire career based on your sexuality. It is about job security, peace of mind, and dignity. I do think our LGB members will be safe.

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Washington, D.C.: How would you suggest "don't ask don't tell" be fixed? Shouldn't it be "don't ask? It doesn't and shouldn't matter. Good luck at USD.

Joseph Rocha: The perfect fix is what we are proposing our legislators pass through Congress. Not gay legislation, but rather, complete non- discrimination legislation like all other employers in the United States are required to have. This would allow for our LGB members to serve with honor and protection. Thank you, USD is an exceptional school.

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New Orleans, La.: I believe you need to name names of those who abused you overseas. Would you consider doing this so that progress can be made in eliminating this type of behavior in the military? If military personnel who abuse other military personnel sexually, verbally and psychologically are outed, then others may feel less inclined to do so.

Joseph Rocha: I absolutely agree. The Chief of Naval Operations has chosen to take a new look at our case. This will allow for the Navy to determine who is at fault in a way far more comprehensive than I would. I dont know what was being decided above my rank. It is best I not instigate. I am very proud however, that this coverage has made A LOT of leadership out there think twice about what they can get away with. I am confident that just in the coverage this story has gotten and the seriousness with which it has been received, alot of abuse has already been prevented.

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Miami, Fla.: Admitting that I am gay while serving in the military will end all of my privileges for college, and a disonorable discharge?

Joseph Rocha: It very well could yes. Your commander has every right to discharge you with an "other than honorable". Which in turn would make you ineligible for your benefits. It is a huge risk to out yourself. Facebook me or email the servicemembers legal defense network for related inquiries.

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Sarasota, Fla.: I was incredibly moved by your story. Thank you so much for having the courage to share it with the world. I was wondering what you would encourage others, specifically college students, to do to support you and work against homophobia in the military. I was also wondering how you feel about militarism considering your experiences. Thank you again and all the best.

Joseph Rocha: For those in, so long as you are not being abused, hang in there. This policy is being defeated. For those out, push this hard to your elected officials. MOST importantly, veterans, we need you to come out and put a face to gay service. Thank you kindly.

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Roy-Chiapas, Mexico: Hi Joseph, Sorry to hear about your nightmare. As a former Army officer who saw similar things in the military, I don't doubt your story, but you say your supervisors and peers assumed you were gay because you didn't share their visits to prostitutes and boasting about their conquests with women. I've known some people, including me, who didn't share the same but weren't assumed to be gay. Were there vicious rumors or any other reasons they assumed you were?

Joseph Rocha: As you and even a high school student knows all it takes is, "what are you gay?". Difference was, I wasnt allowed to answer that very simple question. That, and the then authority of my Chief indoctrinating them that I was gay, left no benefit of the doubt. As you saw on CNN, I do not come across as gay, I did not know anyone else who was gay, and I did not have a relationship. They also hated that I trained with Marines and called them my sex partners.

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Takoma Park, Md.: Joseph,

I found your story very moving and admire your courage to stand up for who you are, even at the expense of pursuing your chosen career. My question is, when you were getting hazed, did you feel that you were unable to seek help from your immediate officer in charge? Is it possible that the officer(s) could have taken action to discipline the senior NCOs that were giving you grief?

Joseph Rocha: This was a very unique unit, a detachment, with NO immediate officer. There are no Officers in the canine community. This afforded my Chief a great deal of power. Being in the Middle East and being young enough to fear my Chief, I did not think there was an escape.

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Bellevue, Neb.: Aside from writing our representatives, what can civilians do to help overturn Don't Ask Don't Tell? (Most of my national representatives are very conservative and view liberals as a small percentage of their constitutes. I'm afraid they will likely ignore any letters I send them.)

Joseph Rocha: Get any VETERANS you know who support the repeal to write. It comes with a unique weight. Make calls, it takes a second but it disrupts the office and has to be made note of. Ive worked in a Congressional Office for over a year. Thank you this gives me a great idea. I will ask SLDN to develop a list of the Reps. we need to cosponsor and then we can get a national effort to target them.

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washingtonpost.com: I Didn't Tell. It Didn't Matter. (Post, Oct. 11)

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D.C.: Like most people younger than 50 or so, I was never in the military. But my impression as a civilian is that in the military enlisted personnel answer to officers and officers answer to higher-ranking officers all the way up to the top four-star and the Joint Chiefs. When you were harassed and assaulted, apparently by enlisted service members, did officers know about it beforehand or find out about it afterward? Did they approve/permit/condone it? What is the highest rank who knew what was happening to you and failed to put a stop to it? And is there no Inspector General or some authority outside the immediate chain of command that you could have gone to? If not, do you think there should be? With soldiers dying on the front lines every day, I'm astonished and appalled that things like this could occur.

Joseph Rocha: That is the same argument of Congressman Sestak. The CNO will have to determine the answer. I would not know what knowledge or decisions were made above me. We were trained that we would be punished severely for telling on our Chief. We uniquely, had no unit Officer. We were a detachment. The top off my chain of command was the Chief responsible for the abuse. When an investigation finally was called, finding 93 counts of abuse and 27 counts of UCMJ violations, the court dropped it. That is why congress has stepped in. Where was our justice. I am not in anymore, my work is all for those who still serve.

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Richmond, Va.: 1. You said that your Chief forced you to pose in a way that simulated oral sex. Did you miss that class in Basic Training that explained that you are only expected to follow, LAWFUL ORDERS?

2. Any sailor at any time can seek the counsel of his Commanding Officer, including requesting transfer to another unit, when there is a conflict within the chain-of-command. Why did you not request a transfer citing the harassment by the CPO?

3. You cite the principles of, Honor, Courage and Commitment, but how can you claim to be "honorable" when you knew the restrictions on homosexuality imposed by the UCMJ, yet you took a job in our military anyway? If you can't handle hazing within your unit, how did you imagine you could perform under combat conditions? Would you suddenly acquire courage and toughness?

Joseph Rocha: 1. I dont apreciate your sarcasm. I was 18, in the Middle East, 7,000 miles from home, in a small unit with no Officer. I missed no days in boot camp. I knew that my life, then and there, depended on cooperating.

2.Changes of command are not usual. The mission is everything. I had a very unique and expensive skill. Regarding reporting, we were threatened against it.

3.DADT trumps the UCMJ's ban on gays. It allows me to serve so long as I dont Tell or found to commit a homosexual act. I did not violate either. That is Honor. Country before self. I can handle, and did handle the abuse, thats not the question. NO service member should be treated this way. I was tough, and an excellent service member to have been accepted to for a commissioning program. You seem to confuse abuse with physical training. In physical training I excelled above ALL of my unit mates and trained extensively with the Marine Corp.

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College Station, Tex.: What do you know about the present status of the chief petty officer who not only allowed but also seems to have instigated this brutal harassment? Do you think he will ever be punished under the UCMJ?

Joseph Rocha: He was promoted once in rank, and twice in position. He now trains Navy SEALS. He was never punished although 93 counts of abuse and 27 violations of the UCMJ were found. The CNO is due to make a decision on this after pressure from Congress.

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Washington, D.C.: Didn't any Navy colleagues take your side and try to defend you against the mob?

Joseph Rocha: A hand full was encouraged by Toussaint, the Chief, and partook in the abuse. The rest were either also being abused or too afraid to go against the grain. However, it WAS a unit mate who ultimately suceeded in getting an investigation into the unit.

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Trenton, N.J.: What does it means to "serve openly" in the military? How do you define that and what is it you specifically want the military to do for you that hasn't been done in the past?

Joseph Rocha: For me personally? Nothing. For all of us? To repeal the ban. For MA1 who killed herself? Some answer for her family and accountability by the Navy. What does it mean to serve openly? That depends on each individual servicemember. They can choose to tell their coworkers or simply live with the peace of mind that their country sees them as people and offers them job security.

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Las Cruces, N.M.: Sir,

Thank you for your service. I'm quite conservative and, frankly, agree with you. DADT should be changed to DANunya - Don't Ask, None of your business. The armed services will survive (and thrive with) gay service members as long as commanders keep troops focused on mission.

Joseph Rocha: Thank you for this. Indeed out Armed Forces is as professional and capable as all other Allied Forces besides Turkey to strengthen their ranks with men and women of any sexuality who simply want to serve. Sexual misconduct should be delt with with existing misconduct guidelines, not with discrimination. The President and Congress face no political blow back with over 75 percent of the country, conservatives and churchgoes included, behind the repeal. This is a matter or fiscal responsibility and NATIONAL SECURITY. Thank you again.

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Washington, D.C.: Thank you for your service and for your honesty. Regarding the suicide of your best friend and commanding officer -- it seems to me that after a full investigation, and your own testimony, the military would have realized she wasn't the one at fault. Were there other factors involved in her depression?

Joseph Rocha: Terrible leadership. The day she killed herself she was called into a meeting the SECO and CMC and told her flight back to the US was canceled and she should pack her bags for the brig in Kuwait. There was no justice for her. She was coming home one way or another. I do hope the CNO's revisit of the facts will lead to better treatment of her parents who have been kept in the dark since.

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Atlanta, Ga.: You said in your article you were going to speak at Pride events across the country. Will you be speaking at Atlanta Pride, October 31st? I'm sure the Pride Committee would love to have you.

Joseph Rocha: I will take the fight anywhere it is well received, especially to places where people don't necessarily agree with it. Please welcome the Pride Committee to contact me via facebook if they are interested. i would be happy to join you all or any University interested in dialogue. Joseph Christopher Rocha

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Harrisburg, Pa.: The outdated arguments that some people give for keeping homosexuals out of the military demonstrate, to me, how their attitudes should fade away. We need more volunteers in the military. There is no gay or straight way to being a soldier; either you can do the job or you can't. How do you argue with the people who believe homosexuals cannot perform military jobs?

Joseph Rocha: Simple.

No research ever produced supports their position.
All research shows that Unit Cohesion is NOT affected.
All Allied Forces but Turkey allow gays in their military s.
Which of course means that overseas, out troops are fighting alongside openly gay foreign troops. Sometimes even led by them. Ultimately if the detractors are not sold on the gay argument you argue logistics and cost. The country cannot afford another 363 million to uphold the policy and cannot afford another 13,000 high skilled troops lost to this policy.

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Des Moines, Iowa: Mr. Rocha, thank you for being brave enough to share your story. Your experiences were horrific, and I'm amazed that you were able to survive in that environment. You also have my sincere condolences on the loss of your friend Val. Do you think that the kind of abuse you suffered would lessen if gays and lesbians were allowed to openly serve in the U.S. military? Or would those in authority continue to look the other way?

Joseph Rocha: Once recognized as equals, leadership would not be allowed to look the other way. As any other for of abuse,m it would still exist but be drastically reduced. Most importantly, tolerance would be institutionalized.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you feel that the treatment you were subjected to happened because you refused to "admit" that you were gay? Or do you think such a thing might have happened anyway if you were open about it? I totally agree that the treatment was horrible and that DADT is nonsense, but I wonder if the same thing wouldn't have happened had their suspicions been confirmed. That sounds more like general homophobia than like "we just want you to tell" to me...

Joseph Rocha: I feel that because homosexuals are not allowed in, it facilitates abuse and encourages the idea that we are less than equal. With the repeal of the ban, you would be just free to harass a gay person as you would a minority or women. Sure you can do it, but you know there are consequences.

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Washington, D.C.: I don't know, the whole article sounded like there is another side of this story that isn't being addressed. You said the Navy did an investigation, but provide no further details. It sounds more like there may have been one person who suspected you were gay and had a problem with that (that may not even be true, it's unsubstantiated hearsay -- you call him out by name but do not provide him the opportunity to respond), but I find it hard to believe that the Navy, as an institution, did anything to discriminate against you. On the contrary, you got into NAPS. That doesn't sound to me like the Navy was out to get you.

Joseph Rocha: I never said the Navy was "out to get me".As I said on CNN, I love the Navy and cannot wait for the ban to be lifted to serve again. My fight is againt the ban not the Navy. Toussaint has been asked for weeks by all major forms of media, CNN, the AP, etc. to tell his side. He has refused. My story and allegations are suported by military documents. Congress and the Chief of Naval Operations would not be so heavily invested otherwise. This is a classic case of corruption that slipped between the cracks. NAPS and the Academy were never informed of what was going on. Why would I put that in my application? I wanted to supersede my current element.

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D.C.: The armed Forces should keep the Don't ask, Dont tell... there are complete idiots out there who are not comfortable in their own skin let alone serving with someone who is gay. I served in the Army and personally I could care less if the soldier next to me was gay, straight, woman, man, black, white, Asian, Spanish (You get my point) as long as they could do the job at hand and serve their country with pride and honor. I have been raised, live and let live. Respect people and their beliefs, even if they are not the same as you. Unfortunately, in different parts of the country, individuals were not raised like that and ignorance sets in. You will see hazing, bullying etc. ... it is bound to happen and it will more than likely get ugly. It is sad but unfortunately true.

Joseph Rocha: DADT only encourages that ignorance that homosexuals are incapable of the same bravery and honor. Your logic would allow for women and all minorities to be forced out, after all, some people might not like them. It is best to weed out ultra intolerant people in bootcamp than deprive the ranks of valuable members.

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Joseph Rocha: Excellent. Thanks to the Washington Post who allowed me to stay on an extra 10 minutes. Phenomenal questions and constructive dialogue among supporters and non- supporters. Thank you all for your time.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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