Columns

Jennewein ’14: Confronting transgender discrimination in ROTC

By
Guest Columnist

In the current debate over the potential return of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps to campus, much attention has been given to economic, administrative and militaristic concerns. But little attention has been paid to the rampant discrimination within the military against transgender people. Though the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is lauded as a huge victory for the LGBTQ community, it does nothing to affect the status of transgender service members.

It is clear that the driving force behind the new committee on ROTC is the recent repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but an immediate reinstatement of ROTC ignores the “T” in LGBT. Transgender people are continually ignored in the push for lesbian, gay and bisexual rights. Before declaring recent political events a success for LGBT rights and an open invitation for ROTC, we need to consider continuing discrimination in the military.

Transgender identity and gender identity disorder have always meant automatic disqualification from military service. Prospective soldiers undergo a medical examination in which anyone with prior genital surgery is rejected and those who have been diagnosed with gender identity disorder are turned away for mental health reasons. In addition, veterans who come out after their service face difficulties getting treatment at veteran’s facilities, and those who change their sex after service face difficulties in simply receiving veteran benefits.

The military’s discrimination, and thus ROTC’s discrimination, against transgender people, stands in direct violation of the University’s anti-discrimination policy, which states, “Brown University does not discriminate on the basis of … sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression in the administration of its educational policies, admission policies, scholarship and loan programs or other school-administered programs.” Because ROTC runs military science courses and offers scholarships, it directly violates this code. With its exclusionary rules on admission, ROTC goes against Brown’s anti-discrimination policy.

This calls into question what a non-discrimination policy means to Brown. Is our anti-discrimination policy a strict code that we expect all Brown institutions to follow or lenient guidelines that take a back seat to broader University goals? If we allow ROTC to ignore the non-discrimination policy, where do we draw the line? Which campus groups can interpret the policy at will and who must strictly adhere to it?

Bringing ROTC back on campus is a direct affront to transgender students and allies. On a campus that has made huge commitments to transgender inclusion in areas such as health services and residential life, ROTC’s return would bring back the inequality that Brown has been working so hard to expel. ROTC’s presence would establish a hierarchy within the Brown community. It makes a statement about who is more equal and who is more deserving of rights.

The military has always had an evolving standard of discrimination. With each new generation, a new facet of discrimination has been deemed too much. With women, African Americans and now lesbian, gay and bisexual people, aspects of prejudice have been stripped away. But after each new fight, when it seemed as if the struggle were over, advocates wanted to quit and walk away with the privileges that they had earned. The LGBTQ fight in the military is not over. The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a huge step for lesbian, gay and bisexual soldiers, but there is still rampant discrimination in the military. Is Brown willing to accept discrimination against transgender individuals? Does it privilege sexuality over gender identity in areas of discrimination? This is the question. Do we accept what we have earned and continue to ignore the needs of transgender individuals? Is some equality, but not total equality, enough?

Brown and the committee considering ROTC’s return need to carefully evaluate what our values are and what our anti-discrimination policy means to us. Are we willing to allow exceptions to this policy and accept the consequences that come with them? Or will we uphold our strong commitment to equality and keep ROTC off campus? How can we reconcile University goals with Brown’s admirable anti-discrimination policy? To what extent will we ignore the minority in the drive to bring ROTC back on campus? I urge the Brown community, and particularly the committee, to take this issue into consideration and remember the values of our community when debating this issue. Brown’s anti-discrimination policy exists for a reason and cannot simply be ignored for the sake of ROTC.

Maddy Jennewein ’14 is a co-president of GenderAction. She can be contacted at madeleine_jennewein@brown.edu.