By Crystal Allen
Leader’s Training Course
Jose Rivera always wanted to serve in the military, to challenge himself and do something important for his country. But until recently, he couldn’t do so and be himself.
Now, Rivera, who is openly gay, is wrapping up his training at the Leader’s Training Course, where he has spent the last 28 days preparing himself to become a future Army leader. He soon hopes to join an already diverse Army that is becoming more inclusive since the reversal 18 months ago of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that barred openly gay people from service.
“I’m not going to change myself for anyone just because I’m in the military,” he said. “A bullet is not straight or gay; it’s a bullet, no matter who shoots it.”
Rivera, a soon-to-be junior at Hofstra University, arrived June 13 at Fort Knox with Alpha Company. He has told a few Cadets, only ones he has become close with, about his sexual orientation.
Although he hasn’t been discriminated against personally, the Army generally is conservative and that worries him, Rivera said.
Whether or not Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was revoked, Rivera wasn’t going to let his sexual orientation get in the way of his plans to serve his country. He would have simply kept his orientation a secret.
However, with the policy change, the Army is becoming even more diverse, he said. More openly gay people will probably join and more soldiers will become more open about their sexual orientation.
“The Army’s policy on this is clear,” said Lt. Col. Richard Spainhour, company tactical officer of Alpha Company. “And the great thing about the Army is when it makes a decision like that the decision’s made, and we salute smartly and move out. So anybody that changes their opinion of his military or leadership capabilities because they find out his sexual orientation has not got the Army’s message.”
The Leader’s Training Course has been a valuable experience to Rivera. He has honed his leadership skills, improved his physical abilities and increased his confidence to the point where he is more comfortable directing others.
And, more importantly, he has brightened his prospects for serving as an officer.
“Cadet Rivera, like most of the Cadets here, is a different person now,” Spainhour said.
Rivera revealed his sexual orientation to recruiters at Hofstra when he talked to them about joining the ROTC program earlier this year. But that disclosure had no bearing on whether Rivera could take part.
Capt. Anthony Telesca, recruiting operations officer at Hofstra Army ROTC, said Rivera has potential to excel in the commissioned ranks.
“Our concern is his potential as an officer and a lieutenant,” Telesca said.
Sarah Jerome, a junior at Creighton University, has become close with Rivera at LTC because of his openness with her. They were each talking about where they came from, and Rivera opened up to her.
“I admire him for even coming out like that,” she said. “That’s a hard thing to do for anybody.”
Being openly gay doesn’t play a role only in Rivera’s life as a Cadet but also his life at home with family and friends. Rivera first realized he was gay when he was 7 and had a crush on his neighbor while living in Puerto Rico.
For fear of being bullied, he waited to come out until the end of high school. After he did, some stopped speaking to him.
“I knew I was going to lose friends when I came out,” Rivera said. “That’s a risk I was willing to take.”
After he graduates college, Rivera plans to marry and start a family with his fiancé in New York, where he has lived since he was 8. They met at a gathering hosted by their fraternity, Phi lota Alpha, and have been dating for a year. Rivera proposed six months ago.
“He’s like my best friend,” said Rivera’s fiancé, who didn’t want to be identified because he hasn’t come out to his family yet. Rivera is his first boyfriend.
Rivera didn’t join ROTC during his first two years at Hofstra because he didn’t have time. He was involved in a host of activities, such as his fraternity, Pride Network, Blue and Gold Leadership Program and being the junior man of the year and vice president of his Greek life council.
Rivera plans to maintain his active campus life and will add ROTC to the mix. As he prepares to head back to school after graduating LTC, Rivera plans to use what he learned at Fort Knox as a foundation for leading others.
He wants to eventually be a Spanish translator for the Army after gaining more skills at LTC.
“It’s a great experience,” Rivera said. “Just something to help build myself as a leader.”