Being a straight ally to the LGBT community as well as a cadet in the ROTC, I have been on both sides of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell debate. Although I strongly believe in public service, I also knew that DADT was a backwards policy that had to go. Its repeal was a victory of tolerance and equality.
I believed that it was an important moment for Columbia, as we could re-engage with our nation’s military and close the deleterious gap between our military and the civilian leaders who decide their fate. However, there were also those who fought off ROTC for ideological reasons. These people believed that counter-terrorism is the creation of some abstract military-industrial complex, the bloody caprice of a capitalist nation. They called our service-members immoral, uneducated, and malicious killers. They believed that the attacks on 9/11 were a justified response perpetrated by freedom fighters. Now that DADT has been repealed, those who oppose our nation’s Armed Forces have found another issue to legitimize their objection to our fighting men and women: the American Psychiatric Association’s categorization of transgender individuals.
How does the this render ROTC inherently immoral? Well, if it appears there is a disconnect, it’s because there is. The American Psychiatric Association is the premiere professional psychiatric and psychological association in the United States, and its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders unfortunately still categorizes transgender individuals as suffering from Gender Identity Disorder. Health professionals in the military are also required to refer to this manual. As such, transgender individuals are often incorrectly classified as having GID and therefore disqualified from military service, along with 75 percent of American youth today. If this is an issue that the opponents of ROTC are really passionate about, why are they not lobbying the APA instead of fighting against our peers’ right to join the nation’s officer corps? Why are they not protesting the Columbia University School of Social Work, which is professionally associated with the APA? It is because they are disguising their true feelings about the US military under the pretense of their push for equality, for fear of being labeled as radical liberals or pacifists and losing credibility in this debate.
As a transgender ally, I may strongly disagree with the APA’s classification of transgender individuals, but this has nothing to do with my desire to serve my country and put my life on the line for my fellow airmen. I devote a large amount of my free time between classes and ROTC to advocating for LGBT students. However, I realize that neither the ROTC nor the U.S. military can be blamed for the decisions of the APA or civilian policy makers. I have been called malevolent, ignorant, and mercenary by those who oppose the program for my participation in the ROTC, but never has anyone attacked me because of my stance on transgender rights. I’m not personally familiar with the utopian “safe space” that my opponents believe will be shattered by the arrival of ROTC. Whatever sense of safe space I felt at the beginning of the year was destroyed when I first “came out” as an ROTC cadet, and I am constantly reminded of this fact every time I am attacked in class because of my choice to serve. By actively excluding the ROTC, the administration is tacitly endorsing this harassment and stripping opportunities for scholarships, professional development, and public service away from our students. They are saying that we, a University renowned for our open debates, our progressive activism, and our desire to change our nation for the better, would rather shrink away from such debate and retreat into our academic bubble. By banning ROTC, we are simultaneously preventing our peers from answering our nation’s call to service, and ceding our opportunity to influence the military, diversify the officer corps, and challenge those policies that we disagree with.
The author is a sophomore in Columbia College. He is secretary of the Columbia Queer Alliance and a cadet in the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps. This piece is comprised entirely of his own personal opinions and does not reflect on the CQA or the USAF.