Though the December repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” opened up the possibility of military service for those who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, the controversy over transgender individuals in the military rages on.
Consequently, many universities that had previously cut Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs on their campuses are considering reinstating them. Opposition to such action has arisen due to the military’s continued exclusion of transgender people.
Unlike many of its peer institutions, however, Penn has housed a Naval ROTC program since 1940.
At Stanford University, which is currently considering inviting ROTC back to its campus after having banned it in 1973, the movement against the return of the program has gained particular ground. The exclusion of transgender individuals is a “fundamental issue of discrimination,” said Alok Vaid-Menon, a sophomore at Stanford and president of Stanford Students for Queer Liberation.
Vaid-Menon, who is also the Publicity and Communications director for National Marriage Boycott — an organization that supports equality across college campuses — said the presence of ROTC “creates a culture that is not friendly toward transgender students on campus.”
While Vaid-Menon situated ROTC and LGBT-friendliness as mutually exclusive, the military presence on Penn’s campus does not detract from the strength of the LGBT community, said College junior Corinne Rich, chair of the Lambda Alliance — Penn’s umbrella organization for the LGBT community.
Rather, it ensures that the discussion regarding transgender equality in the military will continue, College freshman Hugh Hamilton, the vice chair of Finance and Development for the Lambda Alliance, wrote in an e-mail.
That conversation constitutes “a bigger and more complicated issue that goes beyond ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” Rich said. The debate on Penn’s campus reflects such complexity.
“There was no logical reason to keep gays, lesbians, and bisexuals from serving,” Hamilton wrote. However, he added that there could be reasons to prevent individuals who are in the process of transitioning from one gender to another from serving in the armed forces.
“Someone undergoing their transition is under enormous physical stress from hormone therapy as well as reconstructive surgery,” Hamilton wrote. Transitioning requires a psychologically supportive environment which certainly does not exist in wartime.”
“Individuals that transitioned a long time ago and are settled in their current gender expression,” though, should have a right to be considered for military service, according to Rich.
However, College senior Harper Seldin, who identifies as transgender, believes that using such rationale to exclude transgender individuals from the service is invalid.
“The idea that a transgender experience renders someone incapable of serving in the military is the same as disqualifying someone who experienced any emotional upheaval like divorce or another life-altering experience,” he said.
Amid the discussion on Penn’s campus over the issue of transgender individuals in the military, “drawing attention to the current policy is very important, as is trying to find a space for this dialogue at the University,” Seldin said.
The “strong relationship” between Penn and its military service program, he added, will continue to facilitate that dialogue.