In a letter addresses to the Secretary
of the Navy, Pennsylvania Representative Joe Sestak has requested an
inquiry into the abuse of Petty Officer Third Class Joseph
Rocha was discharged from the Navy in
2007 after he violated the military's ban on openly gay service,
known as “don't ask, don't tell,” and came out to his commanding
officer after suffering two years of abuse from shipmates while on
duty on the island of Bahrain between 2004 and 2006.
“During my 31 years in the military,
I served alongside and in command of men and women of all
backgrounds, beliefs, and identities who fought valiantly and
selflessly,” Sestak says in the letter. “When a man or woman
puts on a military uniform, he or she immediately assumes a
commonality of purpose with all fellow service members. Failing to
treat everyone with the same level of dignity and allowing acts of
assault or battery to go unaddressed, would be counter to not only
our national values, but to the concept of brotherhood and sisterhood
that I learned is so essential to – and such a key part of – the
spirit of our armed forces.”
“My inquiry is to determine whether
there is any basis for actions contrary to that spirit,” Sestak
Rocha alleges service members engaged
in a two-year pattern of abuse against him after they began to
suspect he is gay. “I was hog-tied to a chair, rolled around the
base, left in a dog kennel that had feces spread in it,” Rocha
told Youth Radio.
Rocha was a member of the Bahrain
Military Working Dogs Division, also known as “The Kennel,” a
special division devoted to training bomb-sniffing dogs.
The atmosphere on the island base was
“degrading” to gay men and lesbians, he says.
“The fact that I was starting to
figure out that I was a homosexual, it was the most degrading thing
I've ever experienced in my life,” Rocha said.
The hazing, taunting, and bullying
began soon after Rocha declined to take a female prostitute in 2004.
Because he feared losing his job, Rocha says he did not report the
abuse, including violence he suffered at the hands of his chief
master-at-arms, Michael Toussaint.
Documents acquired by Youth Radio via a
Freedom of Information Act request show that Rocha was not alone in
his suffering. A summary of an independent investigation concluded
in 2007 lists 93 abusive incidents, including forcing two female
sailors to simulate lesbian sex on video. One of the women has since
The military's ban on open service by
gay men and lesbians is being blamed for the aggressive atmosphere.
“Any law or policy that singles out
one group as a threat to the greater good is a green light to treat
that group in demoralizing and dangerous ways,” Nathaniel Frank, a
senior research fellow at the
Palm Center, said in a statement. “The current policy is
especially insidious because it allows the group to serve but casts
it as a menace. It's one thing to say, 'You're too old, so you're
not eligible.' But this policy says 'Gays are eligible, they're
serving with you, but by the way, they're an unacceptable risk to
“It's no wonder they're sometimes a
punching bag,” Frank added.
After suffering during his deployment
in Behrain, Rocha wrote to his commanding officer and ended his Navy
“I advise you that I am homosexual, I
deeply regret that my personal feelings are not compatible with naval
regulations or policy” Rocha said in his August 18, 2007 voluntary
“I am proud of my service and had
hoped I would be able to serve the Navy and the Country for my entire
career. However, the principals of honor, courage and commitment
mean I must be honest with myself, courageous in my beliefs and
committed in my course of action.”
“I understand that his statement will
be used to end my Naval career,” he added.
The Navy, with full knowledge of the
role Michael Toussaint played in the abuse, has since promoted him to
the rank of Senior Chief. Representative Sestak would like to know