Mideast edition, Friday, June 1, 2007

Former Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason Knight, an openly gay sailor who served two tours of duty in the Navy, has started a second career with a national lobbying group to overturn the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Knight will begin working next week as a spokesman and lobbyist for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a Washington-based advocacy group that has been protesting the policy since its creation in 1993.

"It's all new to me," he said. "I'm nervous in taking on that sort of role, but I feel like I have a duty to do it. I'm a voice for military people who currently don't have one."

Knight served as a linguist in Navy intelligence for four years until 2005, when he says he outed himself to his superiors. He was given an honorable discharge, and Navy officials insist no mention was made of his homosexuality in their records.

Last year he was recalled to duty, and served 10 months in Kuwait. Knight said he was open about his sexual orientation to everyone in his unit, but remained in good standing with the Navy until he spoke to Stars and Stripes reporters about his service and homosexuality in early May.

Since then he has been discharged from the service for a second time.

SLDN officials said Knight will start his advocacy work with the group next week, meeting with congressional staffers at a reception of the National Women's Democratic Club. He will also give lectures throughout the year on the policy, including his personal experiences.

"Jason's experience obliterates the notion that lesbian and gay Americans cannot serve openly while making a positive impact on our armed forces," said Steve Ralls, director of communications for SLDN. "He is a powerful advocate for repeal whose story shows just how absurd and unnecessary this law really is."

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