“Current federal policy of excluding known lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals from admission to ROTC or of discharging them from service is inconsistent with Harvard’s values as stated in its policy on discrimination.”
Harvard’s official policy regarding the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program states that the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) doctrine of excluding openly LGBT servicemen conflicts with the university’s discrimination policy, forcing Harvard to prohibit ROTC from active participation on campus. Last year, the Harvard Republican Club sponsored a campus-wide survey in which 62% of the student body supported reversing the ROTC policy; the survey sparked massive protest within the QSA, many of whom claimed that ROTC programs were not only non-inclusive of the openly queer, but detrimental to queer rights movements on campus. However, exiling ROTC from the Harvard campus is more punitive and deleterious to the queer community than the DADT policy, denying queer and queer-friendly students a critical on-campus scholarship and career program.
The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) is a college program in which the US military funds a student’s tuition in return for armed service as a military officer following the student’s graduation from his/her university; oftentimes, ROTC students are fully covered by the military scholarship, covering up to $180,000 in college expenses. While in college, ROTC students participate in instructor-led drills, courses on leadership, military history, military science and other targeted career-specific military classes, as well as fraternizing informally with other future officers. Following their undergraduate education, students are commissioned as officers in the armed services, serving for up to eight years in various strategic leadership positions before either continuing their military careers or, more often, leaving for civilian posts in nearly every sector of industry and public service.
This scholarship and career opportunity, however, is too often judged against the comparatively minor military policy, referred to as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, that requires queer servicemen to refrain from divulging their sexual orientation while serving in the armed forces. Too many in the queer community claim that because of this “forced closeting,” ROTC programs should be banned from college campuses, scraping the collegiate program because of the DADT doctrine. And while I fully support the immediate and complete repeal of DADT and the inclusion of openly queer servicemen in the armed forces, to abandon ROTC programs because of DADT is pernicious to a larger campaign of queer equality.
Perhaps the contemptuous point that draws my ire is the hubristic arrogance of Harvard in believing that they can determine the discreet value of living out of the closet as a queer person. For some queer students, coming out in high school meant familial isolation, homophobia ostracizing them from the support network many other students take for granted upon entering college; for these students, economic security is a chimerical fantasy, and supporting themselves through college either an arduous labor or unrealized possibility. Other queer students come from poor families, living in either poverty-stricken regions or simply cash-strapped by economic markets; for them, no amount of family support can subsidize their college education, their education left to their own improvisation. For these students, ROTC offers them a way to finance their college education, enabling them to realize dreams of attaining a degree and providing for them a strong foundation upon which to build a more hopeful future; in return, these students must remain silent on the subject of their sexual orientation. In prohibiting the ROTC program from operating on campus, Harvard states that an individual’s openness concerning his/her sexual orientation is of greater importance than the ability to fund their education. In effect, Harvard deprives queer students of their own right to decide if and when to come out, presuming itself to be the final arbiter on the way and means by which the queer community constructs, performs, discusses and evaluates its own identity. The DADT doctrine is not inscribed in the fine print or enacted from the shadows, but rather an open condition on which the scholarship and program is accepted. Queer students, with full knowledge of the demanded sacrifice, have the right to decide for themselves if the terms of the ROTC program suffice. Harvard neither deserves nor is entitled to the right to decide which sacrifices I nor any other student can take in service of my education or career.
In prohibiting ROTC on the basis of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Harvard is in effect enacting its own totalitarian doctrine: Do Ask, Do Tell, wherein queer students are deprived of the option to remain closeted or discreet about their orientation. Instead of protecting its queer students, Harvard, too vainglorious in its role as a progressive icon, strips from its students the right and freedom of personal choice, determining wrong-headedly that the open discussion of every queer person’s identity supersedes the right to fund one’s own education or enlist in defense of one’s country. The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps not only provides the funds for education, but educates on and instills the values of honor, leadership, valor, loyalty, duty and service to one’s nation and one’s people. My bisexuality may be a critical piece of my personal identity, but so are my beliefs in public service, community, tradition, personal sacrifice and nationalistic dutiful service. Some sacrifice their income, their freedom of speech, their comfort or their lives in service to their country in our armed forces; if I or any other choose to sacrifice the open discussion of my sexuality in order to serve in duty and faith, may it be the easiest sacrifice we are asked to give.