There is a bittersweet irony to Anthony
Woods' candidacy. The twenty-eight-year old is vying for the seat
vacated by Congresswoman Ellen O. Tauscher. Tauscher is behind the
legislation that would end the military's ban on open gay service,
the policy that ended Woods' military career.
an openly gay Iraq war veteran, is running to fill California's 10th
Congressional District seat vacated after Tauscher was tapped by
President Obama to a top post in the State Department in March.
While the November 3 special election
that will decide Tauscher's successor was only announced Friday by
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, candidates have been busy pressing
the flesh for weeks.
California Lieutenant Governor John
Garamendi – the presumed Democrat to beat – has also thrown his
hat in the race.
Woods, who was awarded the Bronze Star
for two tours of duty in Iraq and is a graduate of the United States
Military Academy at West Point, outed himself to his military
superiors in 2008. They quickly fired him under “don't ask, don't
tell,” the policy that prescribes discharge for gay and lesbian
service members who do not remain closeted or celibate. He was given
an honorable discharge and asked to return the Army's $35,000
“I knew getting into it that if I
took a stand, it would be a costly decision and it certainly has
become one,” Woods said in an interview with The Daily Beast.
“But people have to take a stand for what's right. There's a
reason this policy is on the front burner now. … We're a country
fighting two wars, having trouble recruiting, yet we want to turn
away some of our most talented, most well-trained soldiers?”
The policy has recently shifted to the
forefront of national politics as gay activists pressure the
president to honor a campaign promise to repeal the discriminatory
law. The military has fired 282 gay service members since Obama took
office, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
If elected, Woods would join three
openly gay Washington politicos – Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Jared
Polis of Colorado and Barney Frank of Massachusetts – but would
have the distinction of being the first openly gay African American
to serve in Congress.
Woods, who supported Obama during his
campaign, says he would like to serve in Congress to work on health
care, education reform and the economy.
“The first thing I talk to voters
about is their priorities, universal health care and economic
security,” he told the New York Times. “I'm not hiding
who I am, but they're just as interested in talking about the issues
as I am.”
But Woods, whose military career serves
as the foundation of his leadership experience, is going to have a
difficult time managing the conversation away from who he is: A gay
man discriminated by the government he seeks to join, at a time when
that policy is under intense scrutiny.