Openly gay soldiers still serving in US military

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

A US Army Sergeant has expressed his surprise that he wasn’t dismissed after admitting he was gay on live American TV.

Last month Army Sgt. Darren Manzella told CBS 60 Minutes that his army colleagues knew his sexuality. The programme also showed a video of Manzella kissing his former boyfriend.

“I thought I would at least be asked about the segment or approached and told I shouldn’t speak to the media again,” Manzella told USA Today .

Manzella is an army medic who has just returned from Kuwait. He previously earned a Combat Medical Badge for service in Baghdad.

He was the first active-duty gay service member to speak on television about life in the army under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy which bans openly gay people from the US Armed Forces.

Manzella is only one of many other army members who have decided to be open about their sexuality with their troops and commanders yet have not been discharged.

Gay advocacy group, the Servicemembers Legal Defence Network, has said it knows of about another 500 gay army members who are serving openly without any consequences.

“That’s the highest number we’ve ever been aware of,” says SLDN spokesman Steve Ralls.

“Their experiences point to an undeniable shift in the armed forces.”

Over 11,000 troops have been dismissed under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy approved by former President Bill Clinton in 1993.

Discharges peaked at 1,273 in 2001 but halved in 2005.

The policy prohibits anyone who “demonstrates a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts” to serve in the US forces.

Serving gay men and lesbians are also not allowed to tell anyone about their sexual orientation or relationships.

“A lot of service members are getting ‘wink-wink’ treatment from their commanders,” said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Centre at the University of California, which studies the policy.

Elaine Donnelly, whose Centre for Military Readiness favours the ban on homosexuals, has been “bothering” superiors at Manzella’s base at Fort Hood, Texas to do something about his appearance on the live show.

“We have yet to get an answer,” she says. “His commanders should be disciplined appropriately for failing to do their duty.”

Manzella came out to his commander a year and a half ago because he was receiving anonymous e-mails threatening to expose him.

His case was investigated in 2006 and the Army viewed the video of Manzella kissing his ex-boyfriend.

They later told him they had found no evidence of homosexuality.

“They recommended that I just go back and keep doing my job,” he said.

After that, he was sent to Kuwait for his second Iraq war deployment.

Eugene Fidell of the National Institute of Military Justice, a group of military legal experts, said “military managers may be turning a blind eye because it’s a nuisance, and we need these people.”