Phillip Ensler: Seeking fairness on campus

As college students, the sight of two people making out, couples holding hands and the ever-changing “relationship status” on Facebook are omnipresent. It is a perfectly casual and comfortable aspect of many of our lives. We need not worry about repercussions in our respective jobs, internships and future places of employment for the way in which we lead our personal romantic lives. That is, of course, as long as you are not gay and a member of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, or enlisted in the armed services.

As a result of the Department of Defense’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, gay individuals are prohibited from revealing their sexual orientation while serving in the military. The ROTC is a college program in which enrollees receive training for one of the branches of the military, while simultaneously participating in regular academic programs. In return for the college financial assistance the military provides, the enrollees are commissioned into the Army, Army Reserves, or National Guard after completion of their undergraduate studies. As a result of the program falling under the auspices of the military, ROTC is subject to the same stipulations guiding the armed services, and the current policy of DADT effectively prevents gay members of ROTC from being candid about their sexual identity. Such a policy amounts to nothing less than overt discrimination and silences certain individuals because of the punishment they face if they are openly gay.

The debate over repealing DADT – which has gained momentum and is on the path toward being overturned thanks to President Obama’s State of the Union vow – is often confined to a discourse on the policy’s effect on the active army. The implications it has on college campuses, though, are seldom discussed. In FAIR v. Rumsfeld (2006) the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Solomon Amendment, which requires colleges and universities that receive a range of federal funds to allow ROTC and military recruiters on campus. The plaintiffs in the case challenged the Solomon Amendment on First Amendment grounds that allowing military programs (that adhered to DADT) on their campus conflicted with their university’s non-discrimination policy against sexual-orientation. GW, as a university that receives federal funding, must allow ROTC on campus or risk being denied federal monies. GW must allow ROTC to implement its own policies, even if those policies directly conflict with the policies of the University.

It is understandable that ROTC abides by the same regulations as the military, but condoning a discriminatory practice on a campus that champions diversity and tolerance begs the question of how to reconcile the two competing interests. Because the University effectively lacks the authority to prevent DADT, the solution – that will allow GW to abide by its non-discrimination policy and uphold its own tenets of fostering a diverse and tolerant environment – is to support an unequivocal federal repeal of DADT. It is simply unfeasible to simultaneously proclaim to be accepting of all students’ identities and allow for a policy that punishes those who are open about their identity.

The effects of the federal law have been quite palpable on Foggy Bottom. Todd Belok’s discharge from Navy ROTC last spring because he was spotted kissing another male at a campus party illuminated the most disturbing aspects of having to abide by DADT. Two consenting individuals kissing at a party is as ubiquitous as a GW student with a Starbucks coffee – it’s everywhere, all the time. We must think of DADT from a paradigm that compares whether all students are treated equally on campus in their personal choices. When measured in regard to Mr. Belok’s case, the answer is no. If you are straight, you are free to engage in public displays of affection with whoever you like without it affecting your current or future work. If you are gay though, and seek to serve in the military, you are required to lead a clandestine love life, tiptoeing around campus and at parties, being sure no one notices your sexual preference. Such a burden on gay ROTC members is unacceptable on any campus, but particularly on GW’s.

There are myriad arguments as to why DADT should be repealed. Our military is supposed to embody what we stand for as a country and has the duty to ensure that all threats to our livelihood and our values are eradicated. Yet by virtue of DADT, we have codified the very things we proclaim to oppose – bigotry and suppression – into our own laws. And in effect, we have tolerated such treatment at GW. This is not who we are, as a school and as a student body.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail that, “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” And so it is imperative that we as a student body rally around ending the military’s policy in the name of seeking fairness for all who attend our University.

The writer is a sophomore majoring in political science.

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