Letters to the Editor


Questioning Christenson

Harvard’s refusal to enforce its non-discrimination policy is for me a great source of shame and disappointment. The university is failing to demonstrate the leadership it wishes to instill in its students. This failure reinforces a culture of hostility and bigotry within the university and beyond.

One manifestation of this culture of hate is found in Mr. Vonn Christenson’s guest column published in the October 23 issue of the The Record [October 23, Military debate lacks diversity of opinion]. In his column, Mr. Christenson analogizes homosexuality to public indecency, pornography, promiscuity and infidelity. He suggests homosexuality poses a threat to public health and threatens the core values of family and intimacy. These analogies are not merely untenable. They are shameful attacks on the dignity and humanity of the entire gay community.

The idea that Mr. Christenson’s diatribe might be considered to be within the range of permissible dialogue is itself offensive. Just as the community would rally against the unforgivable works of holocaust revisionists, white supremacists or other peddlers of hate, so should we condemn attacks on sexual orientation and gender expression, which are evident in Mr. Christenson’s column.

Martin Luther King proclaimed wisely, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The injustice of Harvard’s non-action reaches far outside the borders of the university. For better or worse, Harvard serves as a symbol to other universities and to the nation as a whole. The school’s failure to condemn discrimination sends a message condoning hate. Silence reinforces injustice. It is in this light that we might understand Mr. Christenson’s preference that “a discussion of homosexuality not occur at all.”

So I urge the school to end its silence, and as members of this school, we too must end our silence. This struggle cannot and should not be fought by the gay community alone. Feminists must speak out against policies like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which disproportionately affects women reporting sexual harassment or who otherwise defy the passive female role. The degradation of individual autonomy and privacy inherent in such policies should similarly move civil libertarians to action. Further, advocates of economic justice need to recognize the overwhelming burden employment discrimination places on queer individuals who cannot work simply because of their inability to conform to gender expectations.

The announcements by 47 members of the faculty, thirteen student organizations and 26 law review editors denouncing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation are significant steps in the fight against Harvard’s injustice. However, we can and must do more. Please ask your professors to speak out in defense of our non-discrimination policy. Ask the administration to protect its policy through litigation. Work to have your student organizations join those groups defending their interests in diversity and non-discrimination. To participate, or for more information, you can contact Lambda here at Harvard, or national gay rights organizations such as the HRC, GLAAD and Lambda Legal Defense Fund. In 50 years, when people like Mr. Christenson are rightfully shamed by their words and actions, we can, by speaking now, be proud that we were not silent.

Thomas Ling, 1L

Vonn Christenson’s guest column is a welcome addition to what has up until now been a hopelessly uninformed and immoral “debate” about non-discrimination. He raises a number of insightful and (I’m sure) well-considered thoughts, but most importantly, he brings this thorny question of “openness” out into the open. If Harvard Law School is any measure of what it means for gays to be “open,” then surely Mr. Christenson’s point has some bite. I can’t count the number of times I’ve passed by a Lambda meeting only to be disturbed by glimpses of gay open sex taking place in our very own Pound Hall. One shudders to think of how openly gay individuals would behave in a military context, particularly in times of war; images of Barbra Streisand impersonators singing “People” against the backdrop of an Arab sky lit up by enemy fire are indeed hard to erase from one’s mind.

But, like Mr. Christenson, I’m digressing. In short, I would like to echo Mr. Christenson’s preference stated in his last paragraph: we should not be discussing homosexuality at all. Instead, we should be singing the high praises of heterosexuality in all of its valorous manifestations and positions. If only we could all aspire to the impeccable sexual ethics and morality of heterosexual military service members, then the world would be a better – and by far, healthier – place.

Satyanand Satyanarayana, 2L

Like Mr. Christenson, I am surprised that our campus is engaged in a “discussion of homosexuality.” I thought HLS had decided its position on this issue more than twenty years ago when it added sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy and barred the military from recruiting on campus. In my opinion we are only “discussing” this issue because, to date, Harvard University has failed to take a strong public stand against discrimination by fighting the presence of discriminatory recruiters on our campus.

Along with every student at this school, I made a voluntary decision to attend a university with an officially declared “core value” of equal opportunity based on merit. If Mr. Christenson would like Harvard to reexamine this commitment and remove sexual orientation from its nondiscrimination policy, he is completely free to lobby for his position. Until such time as Harvard makes such a change, however, I fail to understand his objection to students voicing their support for official HLS policy. Implying that public affirmation of our community’s declared values somehow silences dissent is far more sensationalistic than pink toy soldiers.

Sam Tepperman-Gelfant, 2L

Discrimination against “open” homosexuality is a flimsy pretext for sexual orientation discrimination. Vonn Christenson’s ludicrous insistence on the looming threat of “sex in the open” should gay servicemembers be allowed to serve openly is an excellent example of how far supporters of “don’t ask, don’t tell” must go – and what outlandish scenarios they must concoct – to defend their bigoted policy. “Open” homosexuality, as the military conceives it, is as simple as revealing the fact that you have a girlfriend if you are a woman, something that every heterosexual male soldier is permitted to do. Allowing gay men and lesbians the same rights as heterosexuals is a far cry from leading us down the slippery slope to Vonn Christenson’s incredible hypotheticals, or somehow justifying them by analogy.

Likewise, most of Christenson’s arguments are just a flimsy pretext for the real reason that he bothered to write in: his belief that homosexuality is immoral, which was hastily tacked on at the end of the column. If that’s what the *real* debate is about (and if that’s the *real* reason why some students don’t oppose the Solomon Amendment), why not be honest about it, instead of couching your morality in poor logic?

Peter Renn, 1L

Among the many problematic aspects of Vonn Christenson’s guest column [October 23, Military debate lacks diversity of opinion] was its assertion that the military “does not preclude gays from serving” and apparently, to him, thus should be eligible to recruit at HLS despite our non-discrimination policy.

That’s ludicrous, as illustrated by a personal example and an analogy. I’m dating someone named Margaret. If, as a JAG lawyer, I mentioned our relationship to a colleague, or displayed a photograph of us hugging on my desk, I’d be eligible for discharge. For the same picture or conversation linking me to someone named Mark, I’d face no censure. How much clearer can discrimination get? Similarly, imagine an employer that let students interview as long as they weren’t “openly” Catholic, or that hired black lawyers only if they refrained from “identification” or ”
public meetings.”

Besides, during the 1990s, JAG recruiters themselves acknowledged that JAG discriminates: they declined to sign the equal opportunity form OCS requires of all OCI employers. That’s why, during the years when the federal government respected Harvard’s academic freedom, JAG had to use other channels to recruit. Harvard’s policy is clear-cut, JAG violates it, and Harvard should take forceful action to remedy the disconnect.

Amanda C. Goad, 2L

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