San Francisco celebrates end of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ 

click to enlarge Assemblyman Tom Ammiano hails the official end of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on Tuesday in San Francisco, as dishonorably discharged U.S. Navy petty officer and activist Joseph Rocha, right, looks on. (Dan Schreiber/The Examiner) - ASSEMBLYMAN TOM AMMIANO HAILS THE OFFICIAL END OF THE MILITARY’S “DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL” POLICY ON TUESDAY IN SAN FRANCISCO, AS DISHONORABLY DISCHARGED U.S. NAVY PETTY OFFICER AND ACTIVIST JOSEPH ROCHA, RIGHT, LOOKS ON. (DAN SCHREIBER/THE EXA
  • Assemblyman Tom Ammiano hails the official end of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on Tuesday in San Francisco, as dishonorably discharged U.S. Navy petty officer and activist Joseph Rocha, right, looks on. (Dan Schreiber/The Exa
  • Assemblyman Tom Ammiano hails the official end of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on Tuesday in San Francisco, as dishonorably discharged U.S. Navy petty officer and activist Joseph Rocha, right, looks on. (Dan Schreiber/The Examiner)

Former U.S. Navy Petty Officer Joseph Rocha never wanted his sexuality to interfere with his military career, so he didn’t consider “don’t ask, don’t tell” to be an issue for him. And he never imagined he would one day become an activist crusading against the policy.

He was wrong, however. Simply being gay opened him to abuse and discrimination by fellow soldiers, and eventually an abrupt end to his career via a dishonorable discharge. But on Tuesday, less than five years later, he appeared at a rally in San Francisco to celebrate the official end of the 18-year policy.

Standing at the San Francisco War Memorial Building among gay rights advocates, city officials and two openly gay state politicians, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano and Sen.  Mark Leno,   Rocha and the crowd hailed the end of the policy as a huge success in an important civil rights struggle.

Rocha said his activism on the issue only came as a result of wanting to spare other gay service members the abusive and discriminatory experiences he endured.

“It was difficult to recover from something like that. A lot of people didn’t recover,” Rocha said. “There was a time when I didn’t know if I could pull myself back up.”

It wasn’t until long after he endured the abuse of his fellow soldiers during his four-year service that he decided to take the matter further, even testifying in the federal court cases seeking to ax the policy. Now, instead of holding a grudge, he plans to file papers to become a U.S. Marine.

“To me, the actions were reflective of that unit alone, not of the military at large,” Rocha said. “To me, the flaw was in the policy.”

Ammiano said the repeal of the policy is a step in the right direction for LGBT rights.

“If anything should be dishonorably discharged, it’s Prop. 8,” Ammiano said.

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com

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Dan Schreiber

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

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