Eric Fidelis Alva devoted more than a decade of his life in service to his country as a member of the United States Marine Corps. More recently, Alva spent the last 11 years devoting his life to civil rights advocacy.
“Semper Fidelis,” is not just an adage for Marines, it’s a mentality that permeates and embodies the ranks. The Latin phrase translates to, “Always Faithful.”
According to Alva, his family has a long history of military service with his grandfather serving in World War II and the Korean War, and his father’s service in Vietnam. His family paid the sacrifices for freedom; freedoms not afforded to Alva during his 13-year military career.
“I fought and nearly died to secure rights for others that I was not free to enjoy. I proudly served a country that was not proud of me,” Alva said, showing his prosthetic to students at Texas A&M University-San Antonio’s Patriots’ Casa during a recent appearance. “I joined the military because I wanted to serve. I was patriotic, idealistic; I was also gay.”
Alva, then a Staff Sergeant with 3rd Battalion 7th Marines, crossed the border of Kuwait among the first during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He could never have imagined that within 3 hours he would become the first casualty of the war.
Near the city of Basra, Iraq, Alva exited his military transport vehicle where he triggered a landmine. The explosion hurled him 15 feet into the air, causing a host of injuries including a broken left leg, mangled and broken right arm, severed finger, and a severely injured right leg, which was later amputated.
Medically retired amid widespread fanfare and media coverage, Alva returned to Texas where he obtained a master of social work degree from Our Lady of the Lake University.
Alva came out as a gay man four years after retiring from service, during a period when Texas overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Previously resigned to the anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, Alva said, “I turned a cheek and said that does not apply to me, because I didn’t want to get married, but I was wrong, and shame on me.”
Alva chose to speak out against the military’s controversial policy, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” becoming the spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).
Alva headed to Washington D.C. where he testified before congress with Rep. Marty Meehan as the Massachusetts Congressman introduced the Military Readiness Enhancement Act aimed at repealing DADT.
When former President Obama signed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” in 2010, Alva proudly stood on the dais next to him, bearing witness to the fruits of a tireless campaign for LGBTQ+ freedom.
Today, more than 48,500 LGBTQ+ service members serve openly following the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” according to UCLA’s Williams Institute.
Alva continues to remain an active civil rights advocate dedicated to fighting for LGBTQ+, Veteran, and Immigration rights, helping people overcome the stigma often associated with coming out openly as LGBTQ+.
For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, “coming out” is a process of understanding, accepting, and valuing one’s sexual orientation and identity, a process encouraged and celebrated during “National Coming Out Week.”
Texas A&M University-San Antonio hosted a series of events designed to inform students of the vast local community and resources available to support them.
The event organizers at A&M-San Antonio sought to shed light on the civil rights and liberty challenges facing the LGBTQ+ community. Alva, a San Antonio native, accepted an invitation from organizers to speak to students on Oct. 12 about these challenges.
“I did get some hate mail with people saying, ‘You should have died in Iraq,’” Alva said speaking on his advocacy. “I fought for this country, and I needed to help others like me.”
While anxiety is a common experience among college students, according to studies conducted by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health’s sixth annual report, stressors facing the LGBTQ+ community can be vastly more challenging in a state which still holds divided views on the subject.
“As I often say in most of my public speeches, we still have work to do. Aside from fixing the ban on transgender military personnel, we still need to make sure the veterans who were discharged in the past for being a part of the LGBTQ+ community receive their benefits and recognition of service,” Alva said.
Rene Orozco, president of the Coalition said stories and testimonials like Avila’s are impactful, giving a voice to students who feel alone in their struggles.
“Having speakers like Eric share their story with Texas A&M-San Antonio is extremely important. Their stories leave lasting impacts that change and even save lives,” Orozco said.
The event organizers, the Coalition, are a university recognized organization which provides peer support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students within A&M-San Antonio and the surrounding community.
“We have students that are a part of a community that have been abused, hurt and oppressed for so long that hearing about another LGBTQ+ person’s journey lets them know they are not alone,” Orozco said. “If people take a stand to say this is who I am to the world, they will find themselves so much stronger.”
Speaking to the students Alva said that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, should be comfortable with being open with who they are, and that many people in the past were not given the same opportunities.
“As a nation, it is unconscionable that we will never know just how many of our brothers and sisters died while still living and feeling the oppression of the closet,” Alva said. “We will do everything we can to ensure that they receive the recognition earned.”
For more information on LGBTQ+ issues, visit the Coalition page on JagSync.
Editor’s Note: Rene Orozco, president of the Coalition, also serves as a reporter for the Mesquite as part of his Communication studies.