Law students ask for ‘Don’t ask’ repeal

Military recruiters faced no protesters at Yale Law School’s career fair this year, but over 200 members of the Law School community penned an open letter to military recruiters to mark their latest display of discontentment over the military’s ban on openly gay soldiers.

The letter, signed by 230 students and faculty, calls on President Barack Obama and members of Congress to repeal the military’s policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which permits gays to serve in the military so long as they do not disclose their sexual orientation. The Law School’s LGBT student organization, OutLaws, co-drafted the letter with the Yale Law Veterans Association. Both groups presented the letter to military recruiters at the Law School’s career fair on Aug. 20 and 21.

The presence of military recruiters at the Law School’s career fair has been a source of controversy in years past. Last year, 40 Law School students wore gags and marched from the Law School to the career fair, held last year at the Courtyard New Haven at Yale Marriott hotel.

Student organizers said a protest made little sense this year because of the school’s decision — intended to improve students’ job prospects in a down economy — to move its annual career fair to late August. That move meant most students had yet to arrive in New Haven, OutLaws co-President Eli Lazarus LAW ’11 said. And an under-attended protest, organizers said, would have been worse than no protest at all.

“It would send the wrong signal that no one cares,” OutLaws co-President Vanessa Selbst ’05 LAW ’11 said.

Instead, the groups chose to write the letter, which announces the signers’ “indignation at this unjust and unfair policy.”

“This week, during our Fall Interview Program, representatives of the Navy and Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps will interview honorable, highly-qualified members of our community who are determined to serve their country,” the letter reads. “However, the JAG Corps will not hire our openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual students, even though they are every bit as qualified and motivated to serve.”

Since 2007, the Law School’s Career Development Office has allowed military recruiters to participate in its off-campus interview program, despite the school’s requirement that prospective employers sign a nondiscrimination statement which expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, among other attributes.

The school may refuse to allow military recruiters to participate in its career fair, but to do so would come with a high cost. The Solomon Amendment, first passed in 1995, allows the U.S. Department of Defense to deny federal funds to universities who refuse to assist military recruiters. In 2002, the Pentagon said the Law School was no longer in compliance with the law.

In 2005, 45 members of the Law School faculty filed a lawsuit against the Defense Department — Burt et al. v. Rumsfeld, later Burt v. Gates — that challenged the amendment’s constitutionality.

But after the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Law School’s professors in 2007, the Law School had no choice but to open its doors to military recruiters or risk losing federal funding. It now waives the nondiscrimination requirement for military recruiters.

Congress enacted the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in 1993 because it determined that openly gay soldiers would “create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability,” according to the original statute.

Recent polls have shown that the majority of the American public — military personnel included — have no objections to the presence of openly gay soldiers in the military. Since 1993, the military has discharged over 13,000 soldiers because of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, according to a June report from the Center for American Progress.

Comments

  • YLS ’07

    It’s time for Congress to end the the destructive, prejudiced, and fundamentally unfair policy of banning/discharging individuals based on sexual orientation.