Troops Discharged For Being Gay Line Up To Re-Enlist

After a U.S. district judge rejected the government's latest efforts to stop her order telling the military to stop enforcing its "don't ask, don't tell" policy, recruiters have been told to accept openly gay recruits for the first time. But recruiters have also been told they must tell potential recruits this policy could change at any time, and the court could grant a stay. Still, in recent days, a number of service members who were discharged for being gay have tried to re-enlist.

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One week after a U.S. district judge told the military that it could not ban gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, the Pentagon has told recruiters to accept openly gay applicants.

And already, some service members who were discharged under Don't Ask Don't Tell have begun lining up to reenlist, as NPR's Margot Adler reports.

MARGOT ADLER: The change in policy by the Defense Department came after Dan Woods wrote a letter. He's an attorney for the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay rights group. His letter to the Justice Department noted that the Defense Department might be in violation of the court's injunction when it hastily turned away Omar Lopez in Austin, Texas when he attempted to reenlist.

Lopez says he will try again.

Mr. OMAR LOPEZ: I'm going to go see a recruiter here soon. I was going to make an appointment to see if I can get back in.

ADLER: A number of other former service members have been walking into recruiters' offices. Dan Choi showed up at the Times Square recruiting station last evening. He served in the military for 11 years. He was in Iraq in 2006 and 2007 and he graduated West Point with degrees in Arabic and environmental engineering. He was discharged after he came out as gay on MSNBC.

Since he posted on Twitter that he was going to the recruiting office, it was a mob scene with camera crews, reporters and scores of tourists who were taking pictures thinking he was perhaps a famous actor or celebrity.

Unidentified Man #1: I'm just looking.

ADLER: Are you tourists?

Unidentified Man #1: Yeah. We are tourists.

ADLER: Where are you from?

Unidentified Man #1: Russia.

Unidentified Man #2: Away from the door, okay? You can't block the door, okay?

ADLER: As he exited from the recruiting office, Dan Choi said his experience inside was wonderful.

Mr. DAN CHOI (Former Military Service Member): It was, in a way, a homecoming.

ADLER: He first tried to get into the Marines, but was told at 29 he was too old to join. But the Army, he said, takes people up to 41.

Mr. CHOI: They were very excited that I had prior service and I was willing to go on back. And I talked about being gay. I said I'm gay and I was kicked out under Don't Ask Don't Tell. And they said it's very good to have you and it's wonderful that you're here. And they were absolutely professional. They were motivating and inspiring.

ADLER: He said, you should go in there and enlist. When reporters observed that many gay rights groups were telling their members to continue to avoid saying they were gay, given the uncertainty about the future of the law, Choi wouldn't have any part of it.

Mr. CHOI: I tell all soldiers, don't ever wait. Now is your chance. This is your window to come back in. And as long as you are telling the truth of who you are, you don't need to wait on anybody else's timetable.

ADLER: President Obama has wanted Congress, not the courts, to end Don't Ask Don't Tell. And until then, the Department of Justice has been defending the law. The White House insists its actions to repeal the court's decision do not contradict the president's opposition to Don't Ask Don't Tell. Choi had no sympathy for the president. Did he have any words to tell him?

Mr. CHOI: Yes. I think you need to get off your ass and do something.

Unidentified Man #3: Oh, yeah.

ADLER: Among the many tourists who were watching this scene in Times Square was Jonathan Bower(ph) from Israel. He told Choi everyone in Israel goes into the army.

Mr. JONATHAN BOWER: Even if you come with a dress, it doesn't matter. You still do the army and I'm so happy that you're doing this.

ADLER: And he hugged him.

In one of his recent tweets today, Choi said he missed three verbal and five math questions on the skills test. He passed. But his future and the future of thousands of would-be gay service members remains unclear.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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