Death of 4000th U.S. soldier in Iraq shines spotlight on gays in the military

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Maj. Alan Rogers (September 21, 1967 – January 27, 2008)
Image: United States Department of Defense.

The January occasion of the death of the 4,000th member of the United States military in the Iraq War brought renewed focus on the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) policy towards LGBT service members, according to the Washington Post and other media sources.

US Army Major Alan Rogers, a civil rights activist in the gay, lesbian and bisexual military veteran community is the first known LGBT soldier to die in combat in Iraq. He was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, according to reports.

Rogers was killed by an improvised explosive device while on foot patrol in Baghdad on January 27, 2008, according to an Army report.

Rogers' funeral gained national media publicity, initially on MSNBC, in the Washington Post and on National Public Radio's (NPR) Morning Edition; however, initial reports omitted Rogers' sexual orientation or anything related to the subject.

The Post and Morning Edition reports coincided with the "grim milestone" that the US military death toll reached 4,000 dead. Rogers' death and funeral gained further media attention when it was revealed that he was gay and worked to end the military's DADT policy.

Initially, members of the national media were well aware of Rogers' sexual orientation, and it was widely reported that Rogers was not married and left no children. While technically accurate, the omission of Rogers' sexual orientation was viewed as an intentional distortion by some members of the LGBT community.

The Washington Post ombudsman, Deborah Howell, wrote that the editors of the Post deliberated the question of whether to disclose his sexual orientation and ultimately made a decision not to include such information.

The Army asked that Rogers' sexual orientation not be disclosed, and the Army presented it as a concern of the family, according to news reports.

The Washington Blade, a newspaper for the Washington LGBT community, reported on the Post's decision to change the story and included more details about Rogers' activities and friends in the LGBT community.

Subsequently, Howell of the Washington Post, citing Rogers' apparent feelings on DADT, wrote a column admitting that the Post's article “would have been richer” had it disclosed his sexual orientation and activities in the LGBT community.

Rogers was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on March 14, 2008.