(CNN) - A panel of New York National Guard officers has recommended that an Iraq war veteran who acknowledged his homosexuality must leave the service, his supporters said Tuesday.
First Lt. Dan Choi disclosed in March that he is gay, challenging the 1994 "don't ask, don't tell" law that requires the military to discharge troops who disclose their sexual orientation. Tuesday's ruling, made after a daylong hearing, is a step toward stripping Choi of his officer's commission and ending his career.
"It's disappointing, but not unexpected," said Sue Fulton, a spokeswoman for Knights Out, a group of gay and lesbian West Point alumni Choi helped found.
Fulton said the Guard's Federal Recognition Board heard from members of Choi's unit, his commanding officer and fellow soldiers who served in Iraq, and reviewed more than 150 letters of support for Choi, a 2003 West Point graduate and an Arab linguist.
"At the end of the day, they did not consider any of that material [to] whether he was a good soldier," she said. "It was solely about whether he said he was gay."
The closed-door hearing began Tuesday morning before the board, which certifies that Guard officers meet the standards of the regular Army. Its decision came after several hours of deliberation Tuesday afternoon.
The hearing is considered a confidential personnel matter, and the service won't comment on the results, said Lt. Col. Paul Fanning, a National Guard spokesman.
The board's recommendation must be approved by the commander of the U.S. 1st Army, which oversees the National Guard and Army Reserve. But Choi's public declaration is "a finding of fact that the board has to deal with," Fanning said.
"The Army has no choice but to follow through with that," he said.
More than 12,500 gays have been forced to leave the military since "don't ask, don't tell" went into effect - including dozens of Arabic speakers, people highly valued by the military since the invasion of Iraq.