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.

Woods, 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 educational investment.

“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.