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.