I will admit my thoughts on ROTC do not represent the opinions of most other gay students and alumni. Nevertheless, I think Yale should allow ROTC back on campus, and my fellow progressives and advocates for gay rights should support this long-overdue change.
Our nation needs a cross section of America represented in its military officer corps. That cross section should range from poor to rich, red to blue, and even straight to gay. I suspect that bringing ROTC to Yale would contribute directly to two of those three goals: more officers from upper-middle-class or wealthy families, and more officers with progressive worldviews. In the long run, I also suspect that more interaction between the military and our nation’s top-ranked universities — all of which have shown strong institutional support for gay equality — would contribute to the demise of the military’s immoral policy of discrimination.
Progressives do not need to wage a political battle over ROTC because we are clearly winning the competition for public opinion on the actual issue: ending “don’t ask, don’t tell.” After the Clinton administration enacted the policy in 1993, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that only 40 percent of Americans favored allowing openly gay men and lesbians to serve in the military, while 52 percent opposed it. Just a decade later, a 2003 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found that national support for openly gay Americans in the military had jumped to 79 percent.
Moreover, the opinions of military personnel are beginning to match those of the American public. For the first time in American history, 50 percent of junior enlisted service members say that gays should be allowed to serve openly, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s National Annenberg Survey. However, their officer counterparts are more conservative on this issue, and those officers are the ones who work with Congress to set policy. This is exactly why progressives should be fighting to bring ROTC chapters to all of the campuses with a current ban. All of these universities are top-ranked in both academic quality and support for gay rights, and we should want more graduates of such institutions joining the military and serving as officers.
At some point in the next five or 10 years, the U.S. Congress will likely reopen debate on “don’t ask, don’t tell.” When this finally occurs, we progressives need to be sure that we have more allies among the officer corps of the Armed Forces. We will need military officers with the courage to tell the nation that the conservatives in Congress are helping al Qaeda by supporting a policy that has forced our military to discharge 20 Arabic-language experts (and counting) just because they happen to be gay. Meanwhile, thousands of terrorist intercepts have gone untranslated. Similarly, we will need military officers with the motivation and ability to help the armed forces successfully integrate once the discriminatory policy finally ends.
Of course I acknowledge that bringing ROTC to Yale or Harvard is no silver bullet. However, supporting ROTC is still the right thing to do. Putting politics aside, we should celebrate the service of all talented, patriotic Americans. Furthermore, the current Yale policy accomplishes nothing more than a hollow victory over homophobia. We progressives should not waste our efforts on symbolic battles we are likely to lose, especially when they distract from the substantive issues we are already winning. The conservatives in Congress are the ones hurting America by sacrificing national security in favor of a policy that accomplishes nothing more than a petty, symbolic rebuke to gay and lesbian Americans. Both conservatives and progressives need to move beyond these symbolic sideshows and concentrate instead on the central issue of promoting national security and equal protection under the law. We should support both ROTC on our campus and gay Americans in the military.
Tico Almeida is a 2004 graduate of the Law School, where he served as co-chairperson of the LGBT law student association. He now works as the public interest fellow at a law firm in New York.