Story Highlights• Marine veteran was one of first U.S. casualties in Iraq
• Service members who reveal their homosexuality face immediate discharge
• Proposed law seeks to end "Don't ask, don't tell"
• More than 700 military members were discharged in 2005 because they were gay
By Larry Shaughnessy
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Staff Sgt. Eric Alva was one of the first Americans -- perhaps the first -- to be wounded in Iraq when he lost his leg to a land mine.
But for years, Alva kept a secret: He is gay.
"Who would have guessed that the first American wounded was a gay Marine?" Alva said Wednesday.
Alva's service and sacrifice in Iraq earned him medals, media attention and a meeting with President Bush and the first lady.
Now, he wants to use his place in history to win support for a proposed law to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. armed forces.
He announced his homosexuality at a Wednesday news conference on Capitol Hill, where he called for the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the service to be abandoned. (Watch Alva speak on Capitol Hill )
"I'm an American who fought for his country and for the protection and the rights and freedoms of all American citizens -- not just some of them, but all of them," Alva said.
Since the Clinton administration instituted the policy, service members who reveal their homosexuality face immediate discharge. Even troops with crucial skills, like Arabic translators, have been expelled.
Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Massachusetts, has reintroduced a bill to lift the ban. It has failed before, and he admits it won't be easy this time, but he says it's not a lost cause.
"It will be an uphill climb," Meehan said. "But I think the November elections can only mean good things."
Meehan said his bill has 109 bipartisan co-sponsors in the House, and he said he expects that number to grow.
"The momentum is clear," he said. "It is time to end this outdated and discriminatory policy."
Gay service members are discharged
In 2005, more than 700 members of the U.S. military were discharged because of their sexual orientation. Others, like former Marine Sgt. Brian Fricke, left on their own rather than keep their secret.
"We cannot count those, gay and straight, who have chosen to leave rather than serve in silence like myself," Fricke said. "I'm proud to be a Marine, but I decided not to re-enlist so that I can live openly and honestly."
There is no indication that the White House or the Pentagon is willing to change the policy. But just two months ago, the man who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when the policy was introduced indicated he was having second thoughts about "Don't ask, don't tell."
"Last year I held a number of meetings with gay soldiers and Marines," retired Army Gen. John Shalikashvili wrote in The New York Times. "These conversations showed me just how much the military has changed, and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers."
Marine vet Eric Alva announced his homosexuality during a Wednesday news conference on Capitol Hill.
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