Though freshman Todd Belok is upset and worried about his future, he cannot help but smile when talking about the support he has received after his dismissal from the GW Navy ROTC program under the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy.
This December, Belok was expelled after fellow members of NROTC reported seeing him kiss another male at a party. Despite University anti-discrimination policies, the federal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy excludes homosexual behavior in the military, including campus ROTC programs.
Nearly two weeks since his controversial expulsion from the NROTC program was reported in The Hatchet, Belok says he has received a slew of phone calls, e-mails and words of encouragement. This included an e-mail from another GW student who said he thinks he was dismissed from the NROTC program because he is gay.
Sean Wehrly, a senior, sent an e-mail to Belok commending him for enduring the review process, which Wehrly wrote was “something I wouldn’t have been able to handle when it happened to me.”
Wehrly told The Hatchet that he “heard it from more than once source that the reason for my dismissal, on my papers, was because I was gay.” He was kicked out of the NROTC program in 2005.
Wehrly, who said he never explicitly told members of NROTC that he was gay, said that members of the unit often harassed him because he was a model.
“The jives and the comments went from ‘pretty boy,’ to ‘model boy’ and then turned into ‘gay’ and ‘homo’ as time went on,” Wehrly said.
Students outside of the NROTC program have also contacted Belok, offering encouragement and support.
“You deserve a great deal of credit for being yourself while you were in ROTC,” one student supporter wrote Belok. “I really admire that. Good luck to you in whatever you pursue next.”
Former servicemen, many of which have been affected by the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, have contacted Belok to tell him to remain strong despite this obstacle.
“I find it despicable that they allow unqualified and substandard military men and women to stay in and process out the hardworking good ones,” a former submarine sailor wrote. “Thanks for fighting and giving yourself and those behind you a chance to serve this great country.”
A cadet at West Point military academy also contacted Belok and referred to the federal policy as “outdated.”
While Belok said being dismissed for NROTC has hurt him, he is still motivated to try to appeal the federal policy.
“It is not the Navy’s law,” Belok said. “The unit and Captain Gawne were just following orders. It is the policy that has to change, not ROTC.”
In the days after Belok’s story was published, freshman Dave Perry, one of the two students who reported Belok to his superiors, received several hateful e-mails and Facebook messages, according to a member of the unit who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Perry declined to comment on the situation, as did Nick Trimis, the other student who reported Belok.
Allied in Pride, an LGBTQ student group on campus, has been working to organize a rally for Saturday, Feb. 28. Allied in Pride President Michael Komo said the event is not meant to protest the ROTC unit, but to be a “peaceful rally” to bring awareness to the discrimination the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy allows.
“We have seen a very positive reaction from a lot of students on campus. I’ve heard all positive things from all schools we contacted. This is going to be huge,” Komo said of the planned rally.
Komo said within two hours of the article’s publication, more than 30 people looking to take steps against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” had contacted him
“This is really indicative of how destructive ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ truly is,” Komo said, adding that he does not hold Perry, Trimis or the military responsible. “I commend their efforts in defending our country. I am a huge supporter of NROTC. It just saddens me that they have to uphold ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ “
Now well into his second semester without 5:30 a.m. alarms waking him up for training, Belok has found that he has more free time on his hands – time he plans on spending trying to raising awareness to his situation and others affected by the federal policy.
“I still want to be in the military,” Belok said. “It is just a matter of time until the law changes.”