Army Sgt. Darren Manzella, an early public opponent of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy for U.S. troops, was killed Thursday night in an auto accient, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported.
Manzella was killed after being pinned in between a sport-utility vehicle and his car following an accident on Interstate 490 involving Manzella’s car and a third vehicle. Manzella was reportedly pushing his car from behind when he was struck by the SUV. He was pronounced dead at the scene. He was 36 years of age.
In a December 2007 interview, Manzella told 60 Minutes that he told his superiors he was gay and provided photographs of himself and his partners, only to be told to go back to work, in apparent defiance of the policy, signed by then-President Bill Clinton in 1993, calling for gay soldiers to be discharged if they publicly identified their sexuality.
“I didn’t know how else to do it and keep my sanity,” Manzella said in the interview.
Steve Ralls, who helped coordinate Manzella’s interview while working as a spokesperson for the LGBT military advocacy group Outserve-SLDN, told Bilerico Manzella volunteered to give the interview, which had to be done covertly in Kuwait City.
“There are a few specific stories that really played a critical role in turning public opinion in favor of the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” Ralls said to Bilerico. “Darren’s interview was one of those stories.”
Though Manzella received an honorable discharge following the interview, Bilerico reported, Manzella continued to advocate against the law while working SLDN and speaking at both public events and in lobbying appearances in Washington, D.C. The Democrat and Chronicle reported that Manzella had recently re-enlisted in the military as a reservist, in the wake of the policy being discontinued in 2011.
Watch an excerpt from Manzella’s pivotal 2007 interview, as shown on CBS News, below.