Harvard versus the military

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com October 06 2005 11:00 PM ET

With U.S. military recruiters demanding to be allowed back on some college campuses, Harvard Law School finds itself between a rock and a hard place. It must decide whether to uphold 10-year-old federal legislation, the Solomon Amendment, that requires college campuses to offer full recruiting access to the military or risk losing federal grants.

With Harvard receiving approximately 15% of its yearly budget in federal grants that go primarily to the medical school and the school of public health for medical and scientific research, the law school, like so many across the country, must now bump up against its very own antidiscrimination policy that protects and honors the rights of LGBT students.

In an open letter sent to the members of the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus, its president, Tom Parry, wrote: “Harvard Law School announced this afternoon that military recruiters will return to the Law School campus in October, despite the military’s continuing discrimination against gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. This reverses Harvard’s current official policy, which bars recruiting by the armed forces except at the invitation of student groups. The Law School formerly prohibited military recruiters because of the discrimination embedded in the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law prohibiting gays and lesbians from serving openly in the armed forces.”

While it is not surprising that military recruiters are finding their way back onto campuses, it is surprising that, in the midst of a war that needs every able body who wants to fight, the enlisting of our American patriots continues to include a debate about sexual orientation. Military readiness is not a heterosexual calling. And even Charles Moskos, the chief architect of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” has said that the policy should be temporarily suspended if the draft is reinstated.

The military’s belief that service members who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender endanger “unit cohesion” only maintains a policy of segregation and fosters a climate of queer hatred. It also maintains the military’s history of intolerance, as its argument is eerily reminiscent of the one it used before it was forced to racially integrate its ranks.

In a 2003 interview with online news site TeenInk.com, former Secretary of State Colin Powell shared his reason for defending the military’s ban on LGBT service members: “I think it’s a different matter with respect to the military, because you’re essentially told who you’re going to live with, who you’re going to sleep next to.”

The Reverend Peter J. Gomes, Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church at Harvard University, wrote in his essay, “Black Christians and Homosexuality: The Pathology of a Permitted Prejudice,” that Powell’s concern that LGBT Americans in the military would destroy unit cohesion and thus compromise military capability is a fallacious argument—one that Powell should know is much like the military’s long history of racist arguments that Powell himself had once endured.

Unit cohesion and military capability “remains an appropriate concern of a military man, but General Powell in this dispute was more than a mere military man. He was a military man of color, and thus could give cover to any painful analogy between the admission of gays into a heterosexual military and the admission of blacks into a white military.”

Queers in the military were not always forcefully closeted; in fact, they have been proudly and openly putting their lives on the line for their countries since antiquity. The Greeks, for one, favored gay and bisexual young men in their military: Since gay and bisexual men were considered a family unit, the Greeks knew that paired male lovers assigned to the same battalions were a military asset. They would fight courageously, side by side, and would die heroically together in battle.

Alexander the Great (356–323 BCE), king of Macedonia and noted as one of the greatest military conquerors, was openly bisexual. When his lover Hephaestion died in battle, Alexander not only mourned openly for his lover, but he staged an extravagant funeral that took six months to prepare.

Military drag was a common practice in war during the first century. Heterosexual and queer men were known to cross-dress as women in order to catch their opponents off-guard. First-century historian Josephus wrote in his History of the Jewish War, “While their faces looked like the faces of women, they killed with manly right hands.”

Our most well-known queers in the military, however, are Jonathan and David in the Old Testament. In Samuel 18:1–3, Jonathan makes a covenant with David and strips off his clothes in front of Jonathan to give him his armor. In Samuel 20:41, Jonathan and David kiss each other. When Jonathan dies in battle, David conveys his love for Jonathan when he says, in 2 Samuel 1:26: “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother! Most dear have you been to me; your love more wonderful to me, surpassing the love of women.”

In an open letter to all members of the Harvard Law School, the dean of the Law School, Elena Kagan, wrote: “I believe the military’s discriminatory employment policy is deeply wrong—both unwise and unjust. And this wrong tears at the fabric of our own community by denying an opportunity to some of our students that others of our students have. The importance of the military to our society—and the great service that members of the military provide to all the rest of us—heightens, rather than excuses, this inequity. The Law School remains firmly committed to the principle of equal opportunity for all persons, without regard to sexual orientation. And I look forward to the time when all our students can pursue any career path they desire, including the path of devoting their professional lives to the defense of their country.”

Our LGBT service members are prepared to defend this country with their lives. The war they should be fighting is the one that awaits them out there—not the war here at home.