Thursday, October 29, 2009

Joseph Rocha: Courageous Activist or Media Star?

commentary by LEO E. LAURENCE

Copyright © 2009 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

The growing movement to repeal Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy requiring discharge of “out” Gays in the military, now has a local, young, cute face: ex-sailor Joseph Rocha, 23, of Hillcrest. He even speaks well. But …

After meeting him at the Asian Film Festival at the UltraStar Cinemas where he made one of his many, many speeches; a photo-shoot for Zenger's Newsmagazine was scheduled twice, and abruptly canceled in a brief cell voice-mail with no reason.

He’s become an almost overnight media darling — and he seems to be letting it go to his head.

While talking by cell and setting up a very brief 10-minute photo shoot, he repeatedly bragged about all of the media interviews he's done and speeches he is making. I was impressed.

But, after one re-scheduling, he finally canceled at the last minute, after specifically requiring that we could only meet "in a public place.”

Credibility Issue

In front-page coverage of Rocha in the San Diego Union-Tribune, he claims that, because of his efforts, both the Navy's Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) and Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) are concerned about a Gay sailor.

That's not quite true, according to a Navy Department source who requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the information.

The Navy's Chief of Naval Operations and Secretary of the Navy have ordered investigations into abuse of sailors, but whether the victim is Gay, Asian or whatever; the issue as the Navy sees it is the alleged abuse of sailors, any sailor. It just happens that the case exposing the abuse involves a cute, Gay (now ex-)sailor. Unlike many “don’t ask, don’t tell” dismissals, especially in the early days of the policy, Rocha was given an honorable discharge.

Rocha wants to return to active duty as an officer.

New Face

There's a reasonable probability that the ugly Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” will be repealed.

And the national movement towards that long overdue goal now has a face: a 23-year-old Latino ex-sailor who was violently abused based on his sexual orientation when he was on-duty.

That he is apparently converting the ugly, painful memories of the brutal terror he experienced as a bloody victim of homophobic violence in the Navy into his cause célèbre, into major news coverage of the issues surrounding "don’t ask, don’t tell," is evidence of Rocha's guts. But he seems to be letting his media stardom go to his head big-time. Otherwise, we'd have photos of him for this story.