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Tyrant’s Foe: Bringing the LGBT Rights Fight to San Antonio

by Published on
Eric Alva
Eric Alva
Advocate for LGBT rights.

Former Marine Eric Alva may be best known as the first American seriously injured in Iraq. He gained media attention in 2003 when he stepped on a land mine, lost his right leg and sustained severe damage to his right arm after being in the country for only three hours. But that was just part of his struggle.

Alva joined the Marines in 1990 after graduating from high school in San Antonio at a time when gay people were banned from serving in the military. Three years into his service, Bill Clinton’s compromise—the since-repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy—left Alva feeling trapped in the closet.

He describes his 13 years living under the policy as stressful. He constantly had to lie about details of his personal life just to keep his job.

“Every day was like, ‘Am I going to get caught today?’ Or is someone going to ask me something personal today like, ‘Why don’t you have a girlfriend?’” Alva says.

Following his injury in Iraq, Alva took medical retirement from the military and began studying for a social-work degree. That’s when he met his partner, Darrell Parsons, a social worker in San Antonio. Parsons saw Alva’s experience as an opportunity to bring attention to LGBT rights in the military and introduced him to the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights advocacy group.

“He was never an activist,” Parsons says. “When I came into his life, I was the one who was the activist. I was the one who was saying, ‘We’ve got to do something to fight injustice.’ And so I encouraged him to use his story and use his voice and do something with it.”

In 2007 Alva became a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign. His mission: ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In 2011 Alva stood behind President Obama as he signed the law’s repeal.

This summer Alva joined the fight in his hometown in favor of a proposal to update the city code to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and military status.

In mid-August, while speaking to the San Antonio City Council, he drew attention to the cause in a way he never expected. As he was speaking about the lack of anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBT individuals, Alva was booed by ordinance opponents.

“It was really astonishing and really shocking that there would be that much disrespect amongst people who preach kindness and human spirit,” he says.

Alva says his message of equality goes beyond just LGBT rights. “I knew I had to speak up when others share the same diverse background as me,” he says. “They’re not only gay and veterans or gay and Hispanic or Hispanic and veterans. We all have a little bit of diversity in us.”

Daniel Graney, co-chair of Community Alliance for a United San Antonio and a friend of Alva’s, says Alva is an example of how diversity can’t be categorized.

“It just goes to show you the intersectionality of all these issues, especially to those who say, ‘I can support protections for people of color or for veterans, but I can’t support it for LGBT people,’” Graney says.

Alva continues to tell his story and speak about inclusiveness at universities and events across the country. Earlier this year he helped state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) work on legislation that would protect LGBT people from discrimination statewide—a measure that will be difficult to pass at the Texas Legislature.

He says he plans to lobby full-time at the Legislature in 2015 on the non-discrimination bill. Even in Texas, Alva says, things are changing.

“I’m always defending Texas, even from a lot of my friends who say that Texas is never going to change. I beg to differ,” he says. “Texas has come a long way, and we are changing, and people are getting tired of being pushed around.” 

  • James Alias

    The facts are whenever you ask government to pass laws that sound good like “non-discrimination” they are just taking sides, discriminating in favor of one group over everyone else. To eliminate discrimination by the government you need to eliminate the laws that gave them the power to do so.

    Talking about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is was a policy created by the Democrats who pretend they are for LGBT rights but only do so for the money and the votes. It shouldn’t be the right of anyone in government to ever ask about any sexual orientation or preference. And as far as “Don’t Tell” if you are never asked, you had no need to lie. No I am not saying gays need to be in the closet, just everyone needs to be in the closet and then maybe the closet would be a fun place. We have all these laws against sexual harassment when we only need one law: I won’t bother you about sex and you don’t bother me about sex.

    The LGBT community is like feminist who scream it is a women’s right to choose what to do with her body, but when that women choose to be a mom on one end of the scale or to be a sex worker on the other end of the scale, you have feminist up in arms as the only real choice they want women to make is to hate men. In Texas we have the gay hating gays, that is the men who seek out M4M relationships for sex but pretend they are STR8. They even go as far as bashing the flamboyant gays. Then you have the gays who say they want equality but scream OMG if there is a war I could get drafted and other such idiotic things about equality.

    I don’t need more laws to be non discriminatory and don’t need the government in my personal life. Let’s take marriage for example. Why do we allow the government to pass the religious institution of marriage on everyone. So gays want to change the religion, I say get the religion out of government totally. Marry whomever you want, as often as you want, but to the government that should be totally blind as far as laws, benefits or responsibilities.

    • Elizabeth RIebschlaeger

      Freedom implies choices, but those choices are not unlimited, and neither is our freedom absolute. If everyone has rights and everyone has freedom, then the only way to balance the freedom to act with respecting the rights of another is to have a common defining agreement that says one’s freedom to act ends where the rights of another begins.

      It is the role of laws and ordinances in society to maintain this balance and define it for any civil society. Laws form the protective boundaries that allow each of us to exercise our freedom without violating the rights of others. This both requires and teaches mutual respect. And laws and ordinances are the role of government in ordering society to maintain a just balance.

      This mutual respect does not come naturally to human communities. Reading the daily newspapers and listening to the news reports on radio or TV demonstrates that well, as do the numbers of persons incarcerated for abusing their right to act freely by abusing the rights of others. Certainly, what I witnessed at the City Council meetings in the name of free speech hardly demonstrated mutual respect between some of those for and against the ordinance changes.

      I do not agree that gays want to change religion, but they may want to choose a religion based on their beliefs about gay marriage or civil unions. As we all know, religious groups differ on their teachings and practices of their members in his regard. Under the guaranteed right to Freedom of Religion, they, and you and I are free to make those choices according to our personal faith. This, too, requires mutual respect and our Constitution imposes it on all of us.

      • James Alias

        Religious marriage ceremonies and weather or not a religion considers you married should absolutely have nothing, nada, zero influence on what a government determines marriage or a civil union to be. To that end, why does the government need to have marriage laws in the first place? The only thing possible has to do with community property and children. You don’t need to be married to have laws that regulate community property and children.

        All the other government benefits and taxes, etc should not be based upon marriage, nor consider it in any way, equality for all, equal treatment for all. No need for more laws more special protections or for rules that affect a subset of the population.

        Non discrimination starts with the government not discriminating. It is the government which is the problem, why does the government classify people based upon race and offer benefits based upon race. There is no race except what our government created. There is no LGBT, there are people and people have always had different sexual preferences through out time, we don’t need the government to define sexual preferences with laws.

  • Gene_Elder

    “It is always the really sick people that try to take over the world. The rest of us are content to just give a couple of cocktail parties.” —Gene Elder; San Antonio

    • elizabeth riebschlaeger

      Maybe the “really sick people” –or at least “socially maladjusted” are, after all, the ones at the cocktail parties who are comfortable only with those of their own sexual orientation. Not sure which “side” you see “taking over the world”, but seems like those who object to this ordinance think that, if anyone does, they are the ones who have a right to do so. That’s the point, here. Personal choices are just that. Believing it was the role of government to impose its judgment on personal life-choices that do no harm to anyone else, led Adolph Hitler (and an entire nation via his Nazi party) to his dictatorial and psychotic deeds, Gene. The debates and decisions about the morality of a personal sexual orientation belong in the communities called “churches”, and one’s own personal religious choices that are protected by the same Constitution. Thereafter, the Constitution also mandates our mutual respect
      for the mutual right to Freedom of Religion. So our democratic values, based on our Constitutional basis, forbid a government from entering the religious debate or “taking over its world”. Once again, the ordinance change is not based on an evaluation of personal sexual orientations or lifestyles, but rather, upon the right of each of us to make personal decisions of conscience without imposing them on others (i.e. “taking over the world”). Welcome to the USA.