Sophomore Todd Belok said he never wanted to be an advocate. He wanted to be a naval officer; he wanted to serve his country.
But in the almost 15 months since his expulsion from GW’s Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps program, Belok has gained national attention by advocating for the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The government to amend the policy barring homosexuals from serving openly has picked up steam, with a top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, supporting the repeal and President Barack Obama affirming his opposition to the policy during his State of the Union address.
At a party during his freshman year, two fellow midshipmen saw Belok kissing his boyfriend and reported Belok to the unit. After discipline trials, Belok was dismissed from GW’s ROTC unit, ending his dreams of serving in the Navy.
Since Belok’s discharge protests, rallies and marches in his honor and against the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy have taken place on campus and nationally. Belok has been interviewed by CNN, FOX News and the Washington Post in recent months and said he is working with national leaders, including the Servicemember’s Legal Defense Network and Servicemember’s United, to end the policy. Earlier this month, he appeared in national media after wearing a “Fired Under don’t ask, don’t tell” T-shirt to a press conference.
He has also traveled across the country to protest and speak out against what he calls a discriminatory policy.
Nationally, the fight over “don’t ask, don’t tell” is gaining momentum. While campaigning, President Barack Obama pledged to repeal the controversial policy and during his State of the Union address in January, Obama promised to direct his attention to a repeal in 2010.
The law mandating the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was passed by Congress during the Clinton administration to protect service members living in close quarters from uncomfortable situations. While the policy does not ban homosexuals from joining the military, it does ban all “homosexual conduct,” according to the Department of Defense’s Policy on Homosexual Conduct. More than 13,000 service members have been dismissed from the military as a result of this policy since 1993, according to the New York Times.
In March, Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., teamed up with Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee to introduce the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2010 which would to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” if passed.
The bill would reverse the current policy, allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military. Similar legislation was also introduced in the House. In response to the possible repeal, the Pentagon will be launching a nine-month study on gays in the military, the New York Times has reported.
Repealing the policy would mean structural changes within the ROTC program at GW. Navy Captain Brian Gawne, a professor of Naval Sciences at GW, said if Congress changed the law, GW would follow.
“If Congress changes the law, the armed forces are constitutionally obligated to comply with those changes,” he said.
The University’s policy states that any group using its trademarks will not “discriminate against any persons or groups based on age, ancestry, belief, color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, veteran status or other illegal basis, or in any other way that would be a violation of University antidiscrimination policies.” But because GW receives federal money, Congressional law supersedes GW’s policies.
“GW follows all federal policies and laws,” GW Director of Media Relations Michelle Sherrard said. “DADT is a federal law.”