In light of the pending Academic Senate vote on the proposal that would ban military recruiters from campus, I feel compelled to correct some misinformation that is being spread by the ban’s opponents.
While claiming to be proponents of “individual rights,” opponents of the proposal are quick to dismiss the rights of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). The United States military is an institution that openly and unapologetically discriminates against LGBT people. The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is the only law in the U.S. that authorizes the government to fire an employee simply because they are gay. This policy of active discrimination is wrong and unjust. The reality is that gay people have served and continue to serve honorably in the military. What the law does is force them to live a lie — in effect, revoke their First Amendment right to freedom of speech — in order to serve their country.
Furthermore, the primary argument in support of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — that it improves military readiness — is simply false. Over the last 10 years, the U.S. military has dishonorably discharged over 10,000 soldiers under this policy, at a cost of about $250 million. The fact that discharges plummet during times of military combat only shows that these troops are necessary for military readiness. Most of the closest allies to the U.S. — including Canada, Australia, Israel and most of Europe — have banned such discrimination in their militaries. Surveys show that an increasing majority of U.S. military personnel oppose this discriminatory policy.
It is also not accurate to frame the discussion in terms of LGBT students versus ROTC students. It is not correct to confuse opposition to military policy with a lack of support for our troops. This is simply not the case, and any attempt to present the issue in this way is deceitful. In fact, at its core, the desire to have our troops serve in a just system and for a just cause means supporting them and being patriotic. Those of us who oppose military policy do so because we believe that it exploits our troops and is unjust. I have such respect and feel so strongly in my support of American military personnel that I believe that LGBT people should also have the same opportunity to serve.
The proposal before the Academic Senate recognizes that as long as the military treats LGBT people as second-class citizens, then it has no place recruiting on campus. Instead, we need to examine the will of the university to uphold its standards of equity and nondiscrimination. Does the university have the moral will to do what is right? If the university truly believes in justice and equity, then it should prohibit the institution that so blatantly operates in opposition to these values from recruiting on campus.
I support the proposal to ban military recruiters because such a ban is consistent with the university’s stated principles of fairness, equity and justice. The military’s policy of active discrimination not only violates the university’s nondiscrimination policy, but it also violates the principles upon which this policy is based. To borrow an idea from feminist Bernice Sandler, the mistreatment of people based on sexual orientation or gender identity is not wrong because it is in our nondiscrimination policy; it is in our policy because it is wrong.
The proposal that is currently before the Academic Senate is an attempt to correct a failed military policy by putting pressure on the government to change it. UCSB would be joining a chorus of voices from colleges and universities around the country who have taken a stand against injustice.
Kyle A. Richards is the director of the UCSB Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity.