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 Christopher Rocha.

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 added.

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 committed suicide.

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 your mission.'”

“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 career.

“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 statement.

“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 why.