Mideast edition, Thursday, June 7, 2007

A sailor who publicly outed himself as a homosexual has once again been discharged by the Navy, but has once again been given a recall status that could allow him to return to active duty.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason Knight had served as an openly gay man during a yearlong Individual Ready Reserve tour in Kuwait.

In early May, Stars and Stripes wrote an article about Knight, igniting a media firestorm. In short order, the Navy said it would discharge Knight under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and bar him from re-entering service.

However, in the latest twist, Knight’s new discharge papers — like his previous discharge papers — do not mention homosexual conduct as the reason for his dismissal. Instead, they cite “completion of required active service.” And they list his recall code as RE-1, with a reserve obligation ending in April 2009.

“I can’t do anything but laugh,” Knight said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “It’s getting to the point of being ridiculous.”

According to Knight, soon after the story broke — and was repeated in dozens of media outlets — he was called to the Judge Advocate General’s office at a Navy base in San Diego. He went through the paperwork with a military lawyer, signing forms that indicated he was to be discharged for “homosexual conduct.”

When he got his official DD-214 separation forms in the mail a week later, however, they mentioned nothing of the sort. Instead, Knight was again transferred to the Naval Reserve and “subject to active duty recall/annual screening.”

And, oddly, though his rank was petty officer 2nd class while in Kuwait, his discharge papers list him as a 3rd class, or E-4.

“I have no idea how it happened,” Knight said of his discharge papers as a whole.

Navy officials on Wednesday said it appeared the DD-214 was issued from Norfolk “before a public admission,” but that naval personnel officials were looking into the matter.

“Had the leadership been presented with credible information about homosexual conduct, they would have processed Petty Officer Knight out of the military,” Navy spokesman Cmdr. Jeff Davis said in May. “The first his leadership heard of Petty Officer Knight’s homosexuality was through press reports.”

In part because of Knight’s public statements, Davis said later, he was to be discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

The policy prohibits commands from investigating whether a servicemember is homosexual, and prevents gay servicemembers from openly stating their sexual orientation.

Since leaving the Navy in May, Knight has gone to work with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy group working for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Knight was among a panel of four former servicemembers who spoke before a congressional group this week in Washington, D.C.

“It’s a very pleasant, and unexpected, surprise to learn that the Navy so values Jason’s service that they have again assigned him to the Individual Ready Reserve, despite his very public advocacy as an openly gay man,” Steve Ralls, a spokesman for the SLDN, said Wednesday.

“There are clearly many people inside the armed forces who couldn’t care less about sexual orientation … The Navy has welcomed Jason Knight not once, not twice, but now a third time, and he has always answered the call to duty. His story proves there is no room to question the patriotism, dedication and commitment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, and shame on those who still do.”

Since the policy was adopted in 1993 the Pentagon has discharged nearly 12,000 servicemembers under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. In recent months, due in part to comments by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace, the policy has once again become an issue. It was brought up at both the Republican and Democratic presidential candidate debates this week.

Although Knight acknowledges the Navy will likely reissue discharge orders modified to cite homosexual activity and bar him from returning to service, he would still go back if somehow called to duty.

“Of course I would,” he said Wednesday.

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