Katie Miller ’12, a former West Point cadet who transferred to Yale this year, has won a Harry S. Truman Scholarship for her activism on behalf of LGBT members of the military.
Though Miller previously applied for readmission to West Point, she will be staying at Yale for graduation.
A political science major in Morse College, Miller serves as a spokesperson for OutServe, an underground organization of more than 3,000 actively serving LGBT military personnel. The Truman Scholarship, awarded to 60 college juniors nationwide this year from a field of 602 candidates, offers up to $30,000 for graduate study to students who intend to enter careers in public service. Students are chosen on the basis of demonstrated leadership ability, academic excellence, and a commitment to working in government or the nonprofit sector, according to a March 30 press release from the Truman Scholarship Foundation.
Miller, who identifies as a lesbian, publicly resigned from West Point last August because of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that forced her — and thousands of other active LGBT service members — to conceal their sexuality. Miller applied to re-enter West Point after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in December 2010, but learned earlier this month that she had been rejected, she said. West Point officials told the Associated Press they could not readmit Miller because the repeal has yet to be implemented.
In an interview Wednesday evening, Miller said she did not harbor any resentment against the military for the decision, and still plans to rejoin the military in the future.
“I respect this decision from West Point, and I understand where they’re coming from on the implementation and the timeline [for repeal],” Miller said. “I don’t want special treatment in being readmitted if they’re not re-enlisting gay service members.”
Miller also said she will stay at Yale, a decision she might have made even if she had been admitted back to West Point, she added.
“I came to Yale not necessarily expecting to stay, but I’ve really fallen in love with Yale,” she said, adding that she has taken courses that have allowed her to put her experience as a woman in the military and as a lesbian into perspective. “Yale has done a great job helping me to develop personally in a way I wouldn’t have if I had remained at the academy.”
Miller said she plans to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a Master of Public Administration while also becoming a military officer. Her long-term goal, she added, is to join the United States Department of Defense as a civilian and help shape personnel policies for the military at large. Kate Dailinger, co-director of the Office of Fellowship Programs, who worked with Miller on her scholarship application, called Miller’s commitment to serving her country “extraordinary.”
Miller’s discomfort with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy led her to resign from the academy before her junior year — the point at which cadets in the academy must commit to several years of military service, beginning after graduation. But unlike most of the cadets who leave, Miller went public with her decision.
“There had been other [lesbian] cadets that decided to leave, but they didn’t make it public,” Miller said. “These were really talented women that I looked up to, but I realized that with their silence they weren’t helping anyone else. In their silence they failed to provoke change.”
To publicize her story and the negative effects of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Miller worked with Sue Fulton, a West Point graduate who is a communications director for OutServe and directs an organization of LGBT West Point alumni and their allies called Knights Out. Miller kept a high profile in the national media while the policy repeal was debated in Congress this fall, appearing on “The Rachel Maddow Show” and speaking to the BBC and NPR, among other news outlets.
“She was very active in working to get her story out, and by extension to help people understand the real costs of the [DADT] policy,” said Fulton, who helped recommend Miller for the Truman Scholarship. “I think Katie possibly could have earned the Truman on her scholarship alone, but her courage and her activism really set her apart as a leader.”
Congress established the Truman Scholarship Foundation in 1975, in honor of former President Harry Truman. Colleges and universities must nominate students for the award before they can begin the application process. The 60 recipients will attend a leadership conference from May 17 to May 22 in Liberty, Mo.