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MIT Should Challenge U.S. ROTC Policy

Guest Column by Anthony G. Garcia

I think every open gay and lesbian thought at some point that he or she could lead a straight life. Somehow through making new acquaintances, talking and coming to terms with his or her real desires, the straight life became less and less of a reasonable option. My recent coming out at MIT has been the most enlightening time of my life. Fortunately, the relatively more queer-friendly climate around this part of the country and, specifically MIT, has helped me realize my self-emancipation. I now find myself immersed in an empathetic gay culture, which has dealt with the same challenges that I have overcome.

But the members of this culture an equally tough challenge: Societal acceptance. Amid the excitement and overall catharsis which accompanies coming out, the whole world seems to shine its beacon of acceptance, even if just for a moment. After all, how could finding validation for one's feelings and just being oneself be wrong? In actuality, far too many in the real world still perceive homosexuality as a "wrong choice." The stronger person that evolves over the course of coming out, however, knows better than to force a change in his or her "orientation" for the sake of others' acceptance. The only ones who must change are those who impede overall homosexual liberation.

On college campuses with ROTCthere exists a very real impediment toward such a liberation. Attacking ROTC is, therefore, necessary. This in turn provides a much needed blow to institutionalized discrimination against queers within the greater American military institution.

We are hopefully at the dawn of seriously confronting the military's last discriminatory policy - one based on sexual preference. Blacks and women have also struggled to overcome discrimination in the military. In theory, sexual preference, as with gender or skin color, does not measure ability, enthusiasm or patriotism. Around which points, then, does the debate over banning gays from military service resolve? The notion of a gay person in camouflage conjures for many the image of a weak, effeminate or "queeny" type who fails to accomplish a soldier's arduous physical tasks.

But, throughout trials in 1993 straight soldiers and commanders alike admitted to inconsistencies between the nature of discharged gays and the military corollary, which states that "homosexuality is a psychiatric disorder; gays are inherently cowards, and they pose higher security risks than straights." Thus, through testimony that contradicts the military's anti-queer dogma, we can be convinced that gays are doing their job well. Still, one might ask about "tensions among soldiers who must work in closed quarters" and their effect on overall military sense of duty and performance. For the answer, we look to nations such as Australia, France and the Netherlands, where the "tension and cohesiveness" concern has perished along with bans on gays. These militaries report few violent or verbal confrontations between straights and gays and, most importantly, no lowering of morale. These countries' treatment of gay-related problems is case by case, as with any other query involving sexual harassment or prejudice. The idea that gays would cause the downfall of an army, is a conjecture bordering on fallacy.

What have these testimonies and empirical evidence done to change the current state of homophobia in the American forces and specifically ROTC? Nothing. Where is the voice of reason? What will be the impetus for change? Challenges to the current laws have come and gone without leaving an indelible mark (as in 1993 with the passing of President Clinton's "Don't ask; Don't tell" policy).

With the momentous delivery of MIT's decision in 1996 on whether to continue administering ROTC on campus, I plead with committee members to bring us one step closer to the end of institutionalized bigotry and hate. The right decision by MIT would further the hitherto insurmountable task of breaking down the homophobia that defines America's military. Not only would other major colleges which administer ROTC on campus feel pressure from students to follow in MIT's footsteps, but homophobia across America's military establishments would be reexamined due to its sudden widespread unpopularity.

The time is now to address the acceptance of homosexuality. As a result of backlash on the military's anti-gay policy, conservatives will rise in indignation and spark a much needed discussion on how the nation must deal with the presence of homosexuals. For queers, renouncing sexuality implies forgoing the same fulfillment that non-gays strive to obtain through relationships, marriage, and raising a family. The obliteration of homosexuality is simply not an option.

The excitement over the decision by MIT quickly fades into disillusionment when one imagines a decision in favor of the Institute's continued administering of ROTC. It would be a tragic irony for MIT to shrink from the challenge and continue its discriminatory policy, instead of staying true to its professed virtues.

I conclude by relating to my new journey toward self-fulfillment in a world of non-gays. Along with achieving the support of some family members and friends (because not all will be enlightened by the real me), I know I will have to contend with a mostly unfriendly society. MIT is now my first hope for taming this ignorant homophobic world. If it makes a statement about acceptance on the behalf of other gays and myself, then I would call that progress. In my lifetime, I will not likely witness an end to homophobia, but after two months of being out, I know already I will always plead for progress.