Steve Ralls

Remembering Alan Rogers

Filed By Steve Ralls | March 30, 2008 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Media, Politics
Tags: Alan Rogers, Don't Ask Don't Tell, Iraq War, The Washington Blade, The Washington Post, United States Army

Alan Rogers wasn't particularly fond of silence. In fact, the Alan Rogers I knew absolutely deplored it, and knew all too well the pain and isolation that silence could create.

Rogers, a stellar Army Major who recently became the first known gay combat casualty of the war in Iraq, lived much of his adult life under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law that forces so many LGBT service members into the shadows. He served at the Pentagon, providing critical support to some of the DoD's most important officials, without ever telling them that the support they were receiving was from a gay American. And he served on the battlefield in Iraq, where he saved the lives of two men who, his commanding officer acknowledges, "would have been killed if Alan had not been there."

So I believe Alan would be surprised, and no doubt a little disappointed, to know that in wake of his death, he is now the subject of a public debate on journalistic ethics, rather than a public celebration of his contribution to our country as a gay man.

The conversation surrounding his tragic death has been off-point, and, as a result, Americans are being denied an historic opportunity to discuss the enormous sacrifice our LGBT neighbors and loved ones are making in defense of freedoms abroad that they are often denied right here at home.

I first met Alan a few years ago, during a fundraiser here in Washington. He was, as his commanding officer also observed, "an exceptional, brilliant person -- just well-spoken and instantly could relate to anyone." He had offered to allow a friend from San Francisco to stay with him while visiting D.C. for the weekend, and we instantly became friends. After the fundraising dinner concluded, he asked if I wanted to go to the now-defunct gay dance club Nation, which was hosting a Madonnarama party that night.

We had a blast. Alan was effervescent, full of joy and just one of the nicest people anyone could hope to meet. After that night, we stayed in touch, meeting for cocktails and dinners and emailing each other about what was happening in our lives. Alan had an enormous heart and always cared about everyone in his life. And he had a deep commitment to the United States military and his work as an Army Major.

That Alan, however, has been largely ignored in the press coverage surrounding his death. After the Washington Post published an article that omitted any reference to his sexual orientation, the Washington Blade picked up on the story, rightly questioning why this important aspect of his life was left out of the narrative.

This morning, the Post ombudsman weighed in, acknowledging that the paper should have included the fact that Rogers was gay, because, in her words, "The story would have been richer for it."

And so would the public dialogue.

Instead, the decision not to include Alan's sexual orientation in the original article has now resulted in a media debate about when, and how, to "out" someone who may not have been fully out in every aspect of their lives, even if that was necessarily facilitated by an unfair law that forced the person to remain largely silent about their sexual orientation.

That's the wrong public discourse, and the conversation needs to be changed.

There is no doubt that Rogers was gay. I knew he was, as did many of his friends who spoke with the Post reporter before her story appeared. He was active in organizations fighting to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and he confided in many, many people about why he wanted to be a part - if even a necessarily quiet part - of getting rid of the law. His sexual orientation was never in doubt, nor was his determination to see this law end.

And so today, if we want to help Alan achieve that goal, we have to have a new dialogue. It needs to be one about the first gay combat casualty, the immense sacrifice he made for our country, and the shadows his country forced him into. The story needs to be about Alan Rogers, who was good enough to fight and die for America but wasn't good enough to marry, be protected from job discrimination, included in our country's hate crimes laws or to participate, as a full, first-class citizen, in the American dream.

That should outrage every American and should facilitate a new wave of stories, in the media and in our homes, about why "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is such a horrendous law.

The Post has now recognized that its silence was unwise, and the time has come to break our own silence and tell Alan's story. It's one that could be an especially important "teaching moment" for America, and one that Alan - who never really liked silence in the first place - would want to be told.


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Major Rogers was not the first gay casualty of the war. That distinction goes to Eric Alva, who was the first marine to be wounded during the war. He came out publicly in 2007 if I remember correctly.

The other members of Alva's unit knew that he was gay, it just didn't matter to them, since he was a good marine. I am pretty sure that others who were gay have also been wounded or killed in the war, their stories have just not been told.

This is not to diminish Major Rogers accomplishments or sacrifice, just wanted to clarify the fact that he is not the first gay casualty.

I use the term in the military sense, which covers any form of incapacitation, including wounds and death.

You know though - it's hard to be a journalist and decide what to include and what not in our situation. Race, gender and religions have easy designations and are publicly acceptable. The closet is so dangerous just because it also silences those of us who are out - after all, how does a journalist respect someone's privacy and not another's when you don't know who is who?

Eric Alva was the first [known] gay casualty and apparently (I haven't researched it) Major Alan Rogers was the first [known] gay fatality.

While we are discussing good journalism, let's also consider selecting the right word(s) in order to communicate the right meaning to the reader.

Sorry if I appear to be coming down hard, I don't mean to.

Steve, thanks for the post. Major Rogers sounds like a fine human being and you were lucky to have known him.

Lara Ballard | March 31, 2008 8:46 PM

Steve, thanks so much for posting about Alan. I knew Alan through AVER, and I can attest to the fact that this is an accurate portrayal of the kind of person Alan was. You should also see what Tony Smith wrote about him at http://www.thegaymilitarytimes.com.

But as far as journalists having trouble figuring out how "out" Alan was and how committed he was to gay activism, this was really a much easier question for the WashPost than they would have you believe. After I was interviewed by Donna St. George, I knew there were some questions she had about the timeline, so I went through AVER DC's Yahoo group message boards and forwarded several of Alan's messages on to her. Here are just a few:

His first posting to the AVER DC yahoo group was on June 11, 2004. He wrote to us asking for the location of the Pride festival, in a message entitled "Sorry I'm a slacker!" He wrote, "As I am somewhat new in town, where exactly are the booths going to be set up this weekend? I assume its in the Circle somewhere but not sure exactly where. Thanks, Alan." A week later, someone else in the group posted saying that he had met with Alan and was coordinating with Alan and Tony Smith to do some outreach at Baltimore Pride.

On July 2, 2004, Alan wrote, "Just wanted to say thank you to all who attended our monthly Military Happy Hour last evening. It was great meeting so many new faces and reacquainting with so many others. I think the new location that Austin recommended is a hit! Look forward to seeing many of you at our River Tubing Day on Saturday July 17th...look for more info from Austin, our social chairperson, soon! Whatever your plans, have a happy and safe Independance Day weekend. Alan Rogers."

On August 30, 2004, he posted a message entitled "AVER Membership Renewal Campaign." He encouraged everyone to pay their membership dues during the month of September and signed it, "Alan Rogers, Chapter Membership Coordinator."

On September 29, 2004, Patrick High posted an article about how members of the state-only component of the California state militia were being exempted from Don't Ask, Don't Tell by a recently enacted California state statute. Alan responded, "Patrick, thanks for sharing this article. Wow, what an inspiring step in a long fought fight. Seems to me that this critical legislation will become precedent for other states to adopt similar stances against discimination. Kudos to those state legislators and local activist groups in CA that worked tirelessly to insure the right kind of language was included in the Act."

On October 31, 2004, the incoming president of the AVER DC chapter, Galen Grant, announced the results of the recent chapter elections. "Alan R.," a "career military intelligence officer," was introduced as the new chapter treasurer.

On December 3, 2004, Galen Grant wrote to the group about coordinating a visit to the VA hospital to bring care packages to the elderly vets, sometime in either December or January. Alan responded, "Galen: Jumping on the bandwagon of good ideas here...The holiday season traditionally seems to be the time that many tend to be more giving, charitable and caring about those who are less fortunate due to poverty, illness or distress of some sort. But the remaining 11 months of the year, those same people remain afflicted and frequently forgotten. Seems to me there is a more lasting value of bringing messages of hope and cheer year round. I too support a January vet visit following the AVER New Year Brunch that is being coordinated. Alan." He then added, "When the idea first came up in our AVER chapter meeting last month, the intent was to maintain a linkage and an identification to our veteran roots...that regardless of our sexual identity, we are veterans and need to reach out to mainstream veterans as well."

On March 10, 2005, another member of the group posted an op-ed piece that had run in the Army Times, written by an active duty lieutenant colonel and West Point Professor named Allen Bishop (it was entitled "Gays in the Military: A Question of Liberty"). Alan responded, "Thanks for sharing this [name omitted]. Its nice to see active duty field grade officers making a strong case for the repeal of DADT and publishing it in the Army Times. Curious to read some of the backlash the subsequent issues will no doubt contain. Alan."

I hope that gives all of you a sense, from Alan himself, as to the type of person he was and the extent to which he embraced his gay identity.