Opinions At University Differ Over Gay Student’s NROTC Dismissal

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Mar 2, 2009

The story of Todd Belok, a George Washington University freshman and NROTC cadet who was hauled up before a board and dismissed from the NROTC after being spotted kissing his boyfriend at a party, brought protesters to Washington, and controversy to the GWU student body.

In a March 2 article in the student newspaper, the GW Hatchet, a fellow gay freshman--and Republican--offered his perspective on Belok's dismissal, saying that the NROTC decision was the correct one.

Freshman Joshua Hock wrote in his item that "Conservative GW students" had not been vocal about Belok's dismissal because, Hock speculated, they were reluctant to appear to uphold bigotry.

However, Hock argued, Belok's own actions were to account for his dismissal.

Wrote Hock, "I... am in a unique position to articulate the conservative position, since I am both a Republican and a homosexual.

"I differ, though, from Todd Belok in that I am not usually in the habit of announcing or displaying my sexual preference," hock continued; "the only reason I do so today is to make it quite clear that the views I am about to express are not some disguised expression of 'homophobic ignorance.'"

Hock went on to argue that Belok's display of affection for his boyfriend constituted a violation of his orders, with the military policy barring openly gay troops--the so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy--being "[Belok's] first order" from the military.

Wrote Hock, "What Belok has done is a demonstration of insubordination and that, I think, is something hardly compatible with military life."

Hock went on to posit that Belok would have done well to conceal his sexuality if he wanted to serve in the Navy, knowing as he did that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was in effect.

Wrote Hock, "Nobody asked, but he certainly told."

Continued Hock, "I sympathize with him though. I myself have learned how much of a nuisance homosexuality can be."

Hock wrote, "At a young age, I was forced to choose between acknowledging very real homosexual feelings and fulfilling my aspiration to enter the Catholic clergy.

"Obviously I, like Belok, chose the former, but I, unlike Belok, did not expect the rules to change just because I had."

Hock went on to say that Belok's discharge for publicly kissing his boyfriend constituted "the perfect argument for keeping the rules that ban gays from military service," taking the view that open homosexuality would create tension and discomfort between members of military units, leading to decreased "unit cohesion"--the argument originally made in the early 1990s to continue to bar gays and lesbians from serving in uniform.

Hock wrote that most people are uncomfortable with the idea of gay sexuality, writing, "...even I am still shocked when I see two men kiss publicly."

Hock did not call for the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and the absolute barring of gays from military service, allowing that, "It is the people parading their sexual orientation across the room that are and should be banned" and not gays who are willing to keep their sexuality a secret.

"Indeed, I doubt that there is much room for those people anywhere, homosexual or straight," Hock wrote about individuals who flaunt their sexuality.

Others from George Washington University took the opposite view, staging a protest against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in Washington on Feb. 28.

Another article in the same edition of the Hatchet said that a crowd of about 60 university students were joined by other demonstrators in a protest put together by Allied Pride.

The president of the group, Michael Komo, spoke of the action as a success in drawing attention to the issue, saying, "We got the attention of GW, Georgetown, American and the greater D.C. area."

Added Komo, "It went over very smoothly. I'm very pleased."

The article also included a quote from Belok, who said, "It is pretty motivating to have so many people show up."

Referring to a planned rally against DADT scheduled for Mar. 13, Belok said, "I think as long as we continue the momentum... then we can really change something."

According to Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy group and resource to GLBT troops, an estimated 12,500 members of the military have been dismissed under the provisions of DADT over the last 16 years, since Congress implemented the policy in 1993 as a compromise between then-President Bill Clinton's initiative to integrate the military and the resistance that the idea brought from top brass as well as the rank and file.

The group notes that some of those dismissed under the policy possess mission critical skills like Arabic language proficiency, which are seen as key in prosecuting the ongoing war against terrorism.

Others have been dismissed despite commendations and otherwise perfect service records; Eric Alva, the first U.S. soldier to be wounded in the current action in Iraq, is openly gay. Alva, who lost a leg in Iraq, has become an outspoken advocate to repealing DADT.

Another former soldier, SLDN's David Hall, spoke at the Feb. 28 rally, the Hatchet reported.

Hall was quoted as saying, "I was ranked No. 1 in my class until another female cadet told our officers that I was gay."

Added Hall, "So now, instead of flying planes, I'm flying a desk at SLDN, trying to repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' "

The article noted that Belok's dismissal violated the school's anti-discrimination policy, but that the school could not enforce the policy when it comes to the NROTC because its funding comes in part from the federal government, and quoted a student, Joe Goldman, as saying, "We need to have a meeting, one on one, with the head of the administration because the community is very upset by the minimalist response from the University on an issue that is very emotional."

To that end, Goldman intended to speak with the president of the university, Steven Knapp, about LGBT sensitivity training for the university's administration.

With a review of DADT expected from the new administration, critics of the exiting policy feel that now is the time to organize around the issue of openly gay and lesbian troops.

At the SLDN Web site Kevin Nix, the group's director of communications, posted a Mar. 1 item titled, "You Don't Have to Be Straight to Shoot Straight."

Nix wrote about the Feb. 28 demonstration in the article, specifying that the action was spurred by Belok's dismissal from the NROTC.

"Beginning at GW, we all gathered round to hear David Hall relay his own experience being kicked out of ROTC," Nix wrote.

"Ben Mishkin, always one to pump up a crowd, followed by reminding the audience that DADT is the only federal law that forces employers to fire people for being gay.

"We then marched the few blocks from GW to the White House," Nix went on.

"We heard impassioned speeches on how lifting the ban on the thousands of LGBT folks could ease the current strain on our stretched-too-thin military (and not to mention persistent recruitment challenges to find qualified individuals)."

Nix invited readers to "Join us at noon on March 13 for our own rally on the Capitol in Washington to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," details of which can be found at the SLDN site.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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