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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Rousing Rabbles

It only took one semester for me to get back to being a student activist! Next month, our school starts on-campus interviews with various employers. All accredited law schools have an anti-discrimination policy that those employers must abide by. That meant law schools didn't allow JAG, the legal arm of the military, to recruit on-campus. Then Congress forced us all to allow it under threat of losing the entire university's funding, including funding at the medical school where important research is happening. We have to allow them, but it doesn't mean we have to be quiet about it. A group of us are organizing the students for several events, the first of which is a letter signed by the student body condemning JAG's presence at our school, and asking that the Dean make a public statement that the only reason JAG is allowed to violate our discrimination policy is that Congress put us under duress to do so. I'm trying to get my classmates to sign it, so here's a note I sent them. Hope you tolerate this break from my normal celebrity foolishness.

So, your favorite rabble-rousers, me, Ms. O'Neill, Mr. Coffman, and Ms. Smalls, are circulating a letter asking that you join us in condemning the visit of military recruiters to our school. I want to make it clear that I am not against the military. My step-dad is a veteran. My great-uncle Webb was signed to play basketball for Adolph Rupp, but volunteered to go to Korea instead where he lost an arm. I continue to be in awe of the strength of character it took for them to serve the country in the face of danger. Because of that, I believe it is important to give you my three reasons why I hope you will sign our letter opposing JAG recruiters forcing their way onto campus in violation of our anti-discrimination policy.

1. The Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy is discriminatory for no reason, and is bad for our national security. Even its most staunch defenders like former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell, former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Shalikashvili, and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen are coming around to the fact that there is no good reason to stop perfectly able Americans from serving their country. For those who fear difficulty in integrating LGBT troops, they could look to two of the best armies in the world, Great Britain and Israel, to see how all fit citizens can serve together peacefully without any damage to troop morale. I’d rather look to our own military, perhaps the greatest model of integration in American history. When the president ordered the military racially integrated, people feared the reaction of our troops, not understanding that when the commander-in-chief makes an order, it is absolute. The result is the most powerful military perhaps in world history. Integration worked once with much more baggage, and it can work again.

What’s perhaps worse for the US in the short-term is that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is posing serious risks to our military readiness. Since 1994, 55 translators of Arabic languages have been expelled under the policy despite the 9/11 Commission noting our extreme need for those translators to decipher intercepted terrorist intelligence. More than 11,000 soldiers have been dismissed since the inception of the policy at a cost of around $360 million to taxpayers.

The bottom line is, according to our military leaders, congressional reports, the 9/11 commission, and countless soldiers whose lives have been destroyed by discrimination, there is neither a rational nor a moral basis for retaining Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. The only thing keeping it in place is pure bigotry.

2. So, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is bad for the U.S., but what does that have to do with military recruiters at our law school? We have an anti-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation. We demand that all employers interviewing on-campus sign a statement that they will abide by our policy. The military, however, is exempt. Congress threatens funding for the entire university if we do not violate our own anti-discrimination policy. The effect of this is that JAG gets to push their way in against the school’s own rules, use our resources, and then say that regardless of our excellent performance, I and others will not be hired by them.

Very reasonable people who are against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell will tell you that JAG recruiters should still be allowed in order to maintain our military and to dismantle the discriminatory policy from the inside-out. With all due respect to them, this would never be a question if it were women being excluded from hiring, or Muslims, or any other suspect minority, as it should not be. We all pay the same tuition, but some of us are not afforded equal opportunity. Students need to stand up and send a message to our leaders by saying that this behavior is not acceptable to us. The administration needs to do so as well. Perhaps the leaders of JAG will finally pass along the message to the Pentagon that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is jeopardizing their efforts to be effective agents of the law just as it is jeopardizing efforts to protect our country.

3. I want to make this a bit more personal now. It was never my intention to get involved in gay activist work during my law school career. I’ve done identity politics, and I was hoping to be known as more than just That Gay Guy. Ms. O’Neill’s effort in protest of an issue that doesn’t even affect her, though, has moved me to action too. The main reason for that is, as a JAG officer, one of your responsibilities would be to prosecute gay service members. If you are in JAG, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is more than a nebulous policy, it is your policy to uphold. I don’t seriously believe that most of my classmates would want to prosecute me simply because I share my life with a male partner of six years. That soldier could be me, or any number of our classmates, friends, or relatives.

So long as they continue to be a part of the military’s discriminatory practices, JAG does not belong on our campus.

Image snatched from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

1 comment:

Thom K said...

Way to go Chris. I posted Jeff's e-mail to DailyKos.

Here's the link: