BY PALOMA ZEPEDA
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) is the colloquial name for the military policy which has the net effect of prohibiting people who are openly homosexual from serving in the military. When this policy was introduced in 1993, it was hailed as progress – it relaxed the military’s longstanding ban on homosexuality. Over the years, however, opinion on DADT’s relative progressivity shifted.
Discussions of this policy now criticize it by contrasting it with the sweeping and immediate racial integration of the armed forces by President Truman. Though the military was racially integrated by executive order, this modified prohibition on open homosexuality was enacted by congress. Therefore, although the president acted to integrate people of color into the military, an integration of homosexual soldiers would require congressional action. It would stand to reason, therefore, that advocacy to change the DADT policy would be directed at those empowered to change it – our congressional representatives.
Which is why I’m so disappointed in the so-called protest of my classmates in Lambda. According to a publicity email devoted to their planned protest, Lambda representatives encouraged students to sign up for interview slots in order to challenge their interviewers on the DADT policy by coming out as homosexual or by discussing their objections with their interviewers. Their interviewers have no authority to alter the DADT policy, and are not allowed to critique the policy. Further, it is unlikely that the interviewers themselves support the policy. A recent Military Times survey found that only 30% of military members supported rescission of DADT. Lambda’s protest takes place behind a closed interview door, and the only person who hears it is not empowered to act to change the policy Lambda seeks to protest in the first place. This protest is almost guaranteed not to change official policy, and is highly unlikely to change minds.
But this is something worse than just an ineffective protest. Any reasonable observer would note that this protest seems designed to fail to change either public opinion or the policy itself. Looking a little more closely, it seems like that doesn’t matter. Maybe the point of this protest is to let a person browbeat a member of the military for 20 minutes. Is this protest? No. This is throwing spit wads. This is beneath us.
We are students at law school, and we are trained in the practice of debate. We are trained in the art of persuasion. We are also able to analyze who has the power to change a regulation with which we disagree. There are many effective avenues of protest available: one can write letters, one can stand outside military recruiting facilities with placards, one could even apply for a permit and march through the streets in opposition. Given all the skills we have, and all the legitimate avenues available to us, it is beneath us to resort to closed-door browbeating.
One further objection remains- this browbeating has the additional negative effect of attempting to block our classmates from serving. But for the careful intervention of the Office of Career Services, this protest would have prevented students who wish to serve from getting the opportunity to interview with the service of their choice. As far as I’m aware, students were able to interview by applying specially to career services, but despite the fact that access to military interviews was still available it’s not yet clear to me that a secondary objective of the protest wasn’t to prevent students from accessing interviews. You don’t see Students for Life going around blocking access to interviews to work for NARAL – and there’s a reason. Such a tactic is out of the bounds of respectful protest and debate.
As the old saw goes, freedom ain’t free. Every last one of our rights is protected by the bravery and sacrifice of men and women in uniform. I thank them for their service, and pray for their safety. I revel in the right their service gives us all, the right to openly voice our opinion, even in opposition to the government. I don’t revel in or respect the manner in which my colleagues in Lambda decided to celebrate that right.
Wednesday morning, Dean Kagan sent out an email to students apologizing for the presence of military recruiters on campus. As the proud member of a military family, I would like to apologize- to the military recruiters, to my classmates who are veterans, and to my classmates who want to serve- for the puerile behavior of my peers. I hope that if DADT remains the military’s policy, my classmates will choose to protest in a manner that is more effective, and more respectful.
Paloma Zepeda is a 2L. She blogs at www.bikinipolitics.com.