Staff Sergeant Eric Alva is the definition of a hero. This San Antonio native hails from a long line of people who dedicated their lives to military service: His father is a Vietnam War veteran and his grandfather was a World War II and Korean War veteran. In the corps since 1990, Alva was the first Marine to be seriously injured in the Iraq War when he stepped on a land mine on March 21, 2003, and he lost his right leg. Despite the fact that the country he was serving had a policy (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which was repealed on September 20, 2011) that was discriminatory, Alva served with pride and worked tirelessly to advocate for repeal and refute the absurd arguments against repeal by appearing in countless media outlets and testifying on Capitol Hill. He took some time out to speak with me about the repeal of DADT, his upcoming plans and his noncelebrity celebrity status.
Tell me about your personal connection to the Ali Forney Center. What was your reaction when DADT was finally repealed?
It was surreal. A lot of people were confused—even after December 22, 2010. Just his past weekend, we reached eight months of the services being open. It was a historic moment, but I knew we still had work to be done.
Are you optimistic about the country’s future?
I’m very optimistic. We’ve made great strides in the last couple of years. Here in San Antonio, the city council passed same-sex domestic partnership benefits for city employees. I believe we will re-elect President Obama. He’s the first sitting president in U.S. history that has done so much for the LGBT community. The economy, no matter who is president, will always have to be dealt with. Of course, I want the economy to improve like anyone else, but I also believe in treating people equally in this country. That’s what I was fighting for in the war, for the people of this country to be free. And we are not free and equal. I think we will see how cruel people will be in using negative rhetoric to keep other people from having equal rights.
What inspired you to serve in the first place?
I already knew I was gay. People wanted me to go into college, but I wanted to be with my other friends in the military. Being in the Marine Corps was exciting and rewarding, and that’s where I got the discipline to go back to college and get my degree.
You’ve received many honors for your service. Which ones were the most meaningful for you?
They’re all rewarding. I don’t think one outweighs another. I was standing up for what I believe in and of course, speaking up for people’s rights. I’ve never needed accolades or all that pomp and circumstance. They’re all special and it’s very heartwarming.
What do you have going on this summer?
I went to Provincetown last year for Carnival— I was one of the guests of honor in the parade and I want to go back this year. I’m going to Rehoboth Beach for the first time in July. I just got back from San Francisco in celebration of Harvey Milk Day. I enjoy meeting people and having discussions to further advance our equality.
What was it like to meet Rachel Maddow?
It’s rewarding to meet all these people. Johnny Weir, Anderson Cooper, Jane Lynch, Tim Gunn—he always kisses me on the head, ‘cause he’s so much taller than me. Everyone is taller than me! [laughs] Meeting all these people. It’s like me. People say, “Oh, you’re a celebrity and you’re famous.” I say, No, I’m not. I think it’s just people having a voice and wanting to share their life experiences. It’s amazing to have met all these people because they’re wonderful. It’s a blessing.
How did you feel when you heard the president’s announcement in support of marriage equality?
I was so excited! I actually bought a bottle of wine that night and celebrated with a huge smile on my face. I always knew he would finally come out in support. It was a really courageous thing to do and the right thing to do.