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Gay sailor: Navy panel says he can stay

Despite the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Derek Morado, a sailor stationed at Lemoore Naval Air Station, will undergo a hearing regarding his potential discharge from the military. Here, of Morado poses for portrait at his Lemoore, California apartment, March 30, 2011. (Craig Kohlruss/Fresno Bee/MCT)
CRAIG KOHLRUSS
Despite the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Derek Morado, a sailor stationed at Lemoore Naval Air Station, will undergo a hearing regarding his potential discharge from the military. Here, of Morado poses for portrait at his Lemoore, California apartment, March 30, 2011. (Craig Kohlruss/Fresno Bee/MCT)

FRESNO, Calif. — A gay sailor at Lemoore Naval Air Station said a Navy panel apparently agreed with his lawyer’s argument that “”don’t ask, don’t tell”” is dead.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Derek Morado, 26, said he was “”ecstatic”” after the administrative panel’s unanimous vote Thursday not to recommend his discharge from the Navy.

Lt. Alana Garas, a Navy spokeswoman at the Pentagon, said the panel’s vote would not be made public under federal privacy laws.

The last time a service member was discharged for being gay was in November, the Pentagon said.

A gay rights group that publicized Morado’s case said the panel’s vote sets a precedent for the rest of the military.

“”The best part is, he doesn’t have to have this dark shadow over his head,”” said Robin McGehee of Fresno, a director of GetEQUAL.

The three-member panel of two officers and a senior petty officer met for several hours to hear arguments and evidence, then held a closed-door meeting for 25 minutes before announcing their unanimous vote, Morado said.

Although happy with the vote, Morado said he “”was a little bit surprised,”” largely because military personnel typically support existing policy.

The Navy Personnel Command will now review the panel’s decision, but Morado said his lawyer assured him the command can’t reverse the decision and is unlikely to return it for further review.

If the panel had recommended discharging Morado, the decision would have required approval by the secretary of the Navy.

Morado, trained in bomb assembly and storage, said he was given other duties on base after being outed. He was to leave Friday for a new assignment in San Diego.

Under the “”don’t ask, don’t tell”” policy, the military could not discriminate against gay men and lesbians who remained in the closet but could discharge anyone who is openly gay.

Morado, who attended a Sacramento high school, said he knew he had to hide his homosexuality when he enlisted in 2003.

But Morado was written up for misconduct in 2009 after another sailor saw a photo of him kissing a man that was posted on his MySpace page.

Late last year, President Barack Obama signed into law a repeal of the controversial policy, but it has yet to take effect. But the new law gave his Navy lawyer a winning argument, Morado said.

“”Our angle was that the upcoming repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is putting the old policy out the door soon,”” he said.

No date has been set for the repeal to go into effect, but the branches are undergoing training in the new policy, military officials said.

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