Gay students criticize ROTC program
By Joan Abbott
Three men affected by the US military's current policy on homosexuality -- including Robb L. Bettiker '90 -- shared their experiences with a group of students Wednesday evening in 6-120. Bettiker was disenrolled from the MIT Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corps because he is gay, and may be forced to repay the $38,000 in tuition support he received from ROTC.
Professor of Literature David M. Halperin began the evening as a spokesman for Defeat Discrimination at MIT, a co-sponsor of the discussion.
DDMIT has gathered 2000 student signatures on a petition encouraging the MIT Corporation to eliminate the ROTC program at MIT by June 1994 unless the military ceases to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
Halperin read excerpts from a statement on ROTC issued Tuesday by Dean of Undergraduate Education Margaret L. A. MacVicar '65 [see statement below].
Jim Holobaugh, a former Army cadet who attended Washington University on a four-year ROTC scholarship beginning in 1984, spoke after Halperin. Once he recognized his homosexuality early in 1989, Holobaugh approached a captain in his battalion for advice, insisting that he still wished to be commissioned.
He was then encouraged to tell the lieutenant colonel in the battalion who, after speaking with Holobaugh, recommended this past January that the cadet not receive his commission and be forced to return the almost $25,000 he received from the Army.
Holobaugh is currently awaiting a decision on his case, which has received national attention. He closed by emphasizing the opportunity at hand for the MIT community to send a strong message to the military, because of the Institute's strong reputation in the Department of Defense.
Joe Steffan talked about being forced to leave the US Naval Academy because he was homosexual. During his senior year, Steffan revealed his homosexuality to two friends and this information reached officials at the academy. The Naval Investigative Service conducted an investigation and recommended a Performance Board Hearing.
In the interim Steffan confronted his commander and, adhering to the honor code, informed him of his homosexuality.
The Performance Board Hearing concluded after 10 minutes of deliberation, finding the cadet "incapable of military service" and recommending discharge, Steffan said. An academic record board convened a short time later reaching the same conclusion.
Steffan, who at that time was considered one of the top 10 midshipmen at Annapolis, resigned and left the academy. In December 1988, he filed a lawsuit in an effort to force the military to give him a diploma from Annapolis, reinstate him, and lift its ban on homosexuals.
There is a strong similarity between the military's current policy towards homosexuals and their former policy towards blacks, Steffan said. He also closed by emphasizing the importance of the ROTC dispute at MIT.
Bettiker was the final cadet to tell his story. He said he was not aware of his homosexuality when he joined ROTC, and that he never would have joined under false pretenses.
When he did discover that he was gay, Bettiker considered it a compromise of his personal integrity to lie about his sexual orientation, and so he approached his Navy commander, he said.
Bettiker was immediately put on leave of absence and his scholarship ended. He was later required to visit a Navy psychiatrist who found nothing psychologically wrong with him.
A Navy review board recommended that Bettiker be disenrolled but that recoupment was not necessary. The Secretary of the Navy, however, rescinded the recoupment decision in a statement which authorized Bettiker's discharge and asked that he acknowledge his $38,000 debt to the Navy.
Bettiker stressed that his homosexuality had no influence on his performance as a midshipman and that he should receive his commission.
The last speaker of the evening was Bill Rubenstein, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union representing Jim Holobaugh. Rubenstein stressed that the current military policy against homosexuals is, simply, a policy.
Rubenstein also emphasized the importance of ROTC in changing the way the military treats homosexuals, stating, "ROTC brings a different player into the issue -- the institutes of higher learning. " He claimed that over 70 percent of commissioned officers come from universities like MIT.
MIT is a particularly valuable player because of it's intimate relationship with the Department of Defense, Rubenstein said. Besides "kicking ROTC off the MIT campus," faculty support and MIT lobbying could help end discrimination in the armed forces, he added.
On a closing note, MacVicar briefly discussed her statement on ROTC. She assured the group that "things are moving."