Joseph Rocha, former Petty Officer Third Class, was brutalized for more than two years after unit mates at his base in Bahrain first suspected that he was gay. What is more, the US Navy then promoted the supervisor responsible for perpetrating the violence.
These are the findings of a deeply disturbing Youth Radio investigation that uncovered official military records documenting the abuse.
Joseph Rocha worked as part of the Bahrain military Working Dogs Devision. Just six weeks into his 2004 deployment, the abuse began started after he was singled out by his chief master-at-arms, Michael Toussaint, following an incident in which Rocha had refused to have sex with a female prostitute.
Here is Joseph speaking about what happened to Youth Radio:
At just 19 at the start of the alleged abuse, Rocha himself had only started to figure out his sexuality. Following the altercation over the prostitute, members of his troop would ask him “Are you a faggot?” on a number of occasions. The abuse didn’t stop there. Rocha was forced to take part in a humiliating “training video” which another officer, Shaun Hoggan, corroborates.
He attests that Joseph Rocha and another junior sailor were made to go into a classroom and were then forced to “simulate homosexual sex on a couch”. Another pretend scenario was that the men were “discovered” during oral sex by a dog handler in which one man would “wipe their mouth” and the other would quickly “fix their fly”.
Toussaint and other members of the troop forced Rocha to repeat these humiliating displays thirty more times.
Rocha remembers Toussaint telling him that he “needed to be more believable, act more queer, have a higher pitched voice, make the sounds and gestures more realistic”.
Rocha said that he complied with most of Toussaint’s awful requests, feeling that he did not have a choice. He did not report the abuse, but rather became part of a bigger investigation in 2006 when another officer reported Michael Toussaint and the Division.
So why didn’t Rocha report the incident? Because he was afraid that he would be retaliated against, and that he would be discharged according to the military policy of not accepting openly gay service members, dubbed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT).
He was right to be afraid.
Joseph Rocha was formally discharged from the Navy after developing symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and admitting that he was gay during the course of the inquiry, feeling that he could no longer continue with the military career he had so wanted and had worked so hard for.
Rocha wasn’t the only victim however. The Youth Radio investigation found a large number of other violations, including an incident where two female workers were apparently handcuffed to a bed and forced to simulate lesbian sex whilst being videotaped. An approximate 93 alleged abuses perpetrated by Touissant and several members of his platoon have been recorded.
Because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Joseph Rocha’s case has been swept aside, with Naval authorities claiming that the incident was dealt with internally and that those responsible were held to account.
Really? Is Michael Touissant enjoying his promotion?
Joseph Rocha’s case, and cases like it, are why DADT must be repealed, and why it should be a priority for the Obama Administration.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is baseless discrimination, and it allows civil and human rights abuses that are perpetrated against lesbian and gay soldiers to continue because they are too afraid to speak up over fears of being discharged. How can we stop those anti-gay attacks when homophobia has been institutionalized?
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