Washington (CNN) – Over a hundred U.S. military veterans gathered Tuesday on Capitol Hill to press Congress for quick repeal of the law banning gays from serving in the military.
Gay, lesbian and straight veterans and supporters converged on steps of the U.S. Capitol for a group photograph with Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Connecticut, who is the main sponsor of a bill that would officially repeal the law, known as "don't ask, don't tell."
Event participants visited their respective congressional representatives to urge them to repeal the law without waiting for the completion of a Pentagon study that is looking at how the change would be implemented.
Eric Alva, a retired Marine with the group Human Rights Campaign, one of the event's organizers, came from San Antonio, Texas, to visit his congressman, Rep. Charles Gonzalez, D-Texas.
"He's a friend to his constituents so we were there just to thank him," said Alva, who was the first American seriously injured in the Iraq war when he lost his right leg after stepping on a land mine. He announced he was gay after his medical discharge from the military.
Event participant Andre Sauvageot, 77, served in the Army during World War II. He described himself as straight and "happily married to a Vietnamese woman for 40 years," but said he came from nearby Virginia to show solidarity with gay and lesbian veterans.
"It's a waste of human resources to discharge skilled military personnel simply because of sexual orientation," he said.
Sauvageot said he talked to a staffers in the office of Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, and hopes to visit Virginia's two senators, Mark Warner and Jim Webb, both Democrats, on Thursday.
"I'm very encouraged," said Sauvageot. "I think people are beginning to understand the common sense and justice in keeping with American values in getting rid of this legislation."
Some supporters of gays serving in the military stood on the Capitol grounds carrying signs, two of which read, "You don't have to ask. I'm proud of being a lesbian," and "ASK. TELL."
Alexander Nicholson said he was discharged from the Army in 2002 after a fellow soldier learned Nicholson was gay and reported the information to Army superiors.
"You feel ashamed," said Nicholson, now executive director of Servicemembers United, another of the event's organizers. "This was a real roller coaster."
Nicholson said at the time of his discharge he lived with his conservative father, an Army retiree, who learned of Nicholson's homosexuality
by inadvertently opening an Army letter containing the younger Nicholson's discharge papers.
"He took it pretty hard," said Nicholson. "It took a number of years for him to put it into perspective and into context."
Lieberman said in a statement that, "These brave men and women make the best case for why the policy of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' should be repealed."
"Allowing gay Americans to serve openly in our Armed Forces will strengthen our national security and reinforce one of the central values of our military: integrity. I am deeply grateful for their service, courage and sacrifice on behalf of our country," he said.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent a letter in April to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Missouri, asking him to hold off on changing the law until a Pentagon working group completes a study on how such a repeal should be implemented.
"I hope Congress will not do so, as it would send a very damaging message to our men and women in uniform that in essence their views, concerns, and perspectives do not matter on an issue with such a direct impact and consequence for them and their families," Gates wrote in the letter.