Series: LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History

LGBTQ Military Service

By Steve Estes
Two men shake hands
Major General Christopher Cortez (left), Commanding General, Marine Corps Recruiting Command, honors Staff Sergeant Eric Alva, the recipient of the Heroes and Heritage Award at the 2003 National Council of La Raza meeting in Austin, Texas.

Photo by US Marine Corps Sgt. Matt Griffin.

Eric Alva was raised in a military family in San Antonio, Texas. His grandfather had served in the army in World War II and Korea. His father served in Vietnam. When Alva graduated from high school in 1989, he joined the Marine Corps. He was deployed in Somalia in the 1990s and rose gradually through the enlisted ranks to become a staff sergeant. During Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, Alva was leading about a dozen men in a supply convoy near Basra when he stepped on a landmine. “The explosion was so powerful,” he remembered, “it blew me to the ground about ten feet away and took off part of my right leg.”[1] Alva was the first American serviceman seriously wounded in Iraq. He would receive a Purple Heart and a prosthetic leg. The President and First Lady visited him in the hospital, and he was interviewed by dozens of magazines and television news programs. Alva was a military hero. He was also gay. Many of his fellow marines knew, but this wasn’t part of his public story in 2003. By 2006, Alva was no longer willing to hide his sexuality. Read more » [PDF 2.0 MB]



[1] Eric Alva, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: From the Inside Out,” Huffington Post, February 28, 2007, accessed August 1, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-alva/dont-ask-dont-tell-from-t_b_42310.html.

The views and conclusions contained in the essays are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Government. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Last updated: August 11, 2017