Army Spec. Alastair Gamble was 20 weeks short of finishing training as an Arabic translator when he and his partner were discovered together after curfew in Gamble's room at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif. Two valentines from his lover and a photograph of the two at Disney World cost Gamble his Army career under the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.
"When I was separated from the Army, I was sad my career was ending, but I was also furious because I knew our country was weaker for this policy," Gamble told about 50 people last night at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington.
This year's high-profile court decisions expanding the rights of gay people and the 10th anniversary of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy on gays in the military prompted Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) to organize the meeting, which his staff said was "the first congressionally sponsored gay and lesbian issues forum."
The legislation, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, calls for the military to refrain from investigating service members' sexual orientation as long as they do not declare it themselves, but gay service members still can be discharged.
"I thought it was appropriate to have . . . an open public hearing on issues specifically related to the gay and lesbian community," Moran said.
Same-sex marriage and gays in the military are likely to be major issues in Congress and during next year's presidential election, Moran said. He said he supports same-sex civil unions and would oppose a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages.
"It's important to get mobilized," Moran said in an interview. "This legislation will pass unless there is substantial organized opposition to it."
As well as hearing from Gamble, last night's audience heard from representatives of the Human Rights Campaign and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a national group that seeks to end discrimination against military personnel affected by Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Gamble, 25, now a D.C. resident, told the gathering how difficult it was restarting his life after he was discharged honorably from the Army last year.
Gamble was one of nine translators dismissed by the Army in 2002 and among 10,000 soldiers discharged in the 10 years of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
"I knew very little about what was going to happen," Gamble said. "Relocating, finding a new job and getting settled -- I didn't have much of a cushion. It was rough."
Gamble and his partner moved to Washington, where Gamble works as a consultant in the private sector.
Opponents of the law say the Army should not be dismissing Arabic translators on the basis of sexuality when Arabic speakers are sorely needed in the Iraq conflict. They noted that the military has been far less likely to pursue cases against homosexuals in times of war, citing government statistics that estimate that in 2001, 1,273 gays and lesbians were dismissed from the military but that significantly fewer, 906, were dismissed in 2002.
"The biggest concern with the Arabic linguists' story is not just how does this impact the gay and lesbian service members, but how does this impact national security?" said Sharra Greer, the director for law and policy at the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. "We're discharging people in jobs we have shortfalls in, and yet we're willing to fire people simply because of their sexual orientation? Does that make sense?"