To The Editor:
I am writing to respond to Dan Richman 95’s editorial (“The Real Problem for Gays and the Military,” April 20). Richman is right about one thing: gays, lesbians and bisexuals face serious problems of homophobia in all sectors of society, not just the military. We recognize that, and work every day to eliminate homophobia and to increase the level of tolerance and respect for homosexuals wherever we live, work or attend school.
Unfortunately, however, Richman fails to understand the full significance of the Board of Trustees’ decision to retain the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program at Dartmouth. Over the past 30 years, American society has made tremendous progress in expanding the human and civil rights of a number of minority and disadvantaged groups. Now, for example, thanks to federal and state laws, it would be illegal for Dartmouth to discriminate against anyone on the basis of race. In several states and municipalities, moreover, such civil and human rights ordinances have been extended to cover sexual orientation. These laws are tremendously important to gay, lesbian and bisexual people because they allow us to live openly without fear that we will be denied employment or housing simply because we are gay. Unfortunately, however, federal civil rights laws still do not include us; and to date, New Hampshire has yet to extend basic protections to homosexuals.
Luckily for homosexual students, faculty, staff and administrators at Dartmouth, we did not have to fear discrimination, because the College protected us in its Equal Opportunity clause. The Equal Opportunity clause was the College’s promise to us that it would not fire us, refuse us admission or otherwise discriminate against us on the basis of our sexual orientation. As long as the College honored this clause, we were safe. The Saturday decision of the Board of Trustees, however, destroyed this security. ROTC is a College-recognized program that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation. It therefore violates the Equal Opportunity clause. Yet the Trustees ruled that it could stay. This decision is extremely frightening to gay, lesbian and bisexual students, faculty, staff and administrators at the College because in it, the Board of Trustees set a dangerous precedent of violating the College’s own Equal Opportunity clause.
This precedent is not, and should not be, terribly frightening to other minority groups. They enjoy federal and state protection, which is still denied to homosexuals. Therefore, if the College fired someone on the basis of race, for example, that person could bring a case against the College, sue it and win. For us, however, the small measure of security we had enjoyed is now gone. If the College allows one of its programs to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, we cannot feel confident that it will not do so again in future cases. Tomorrow, a gay or lesbian faculty member could be fired solely on the basis of his or her sexual orientation, and that person would have absolutely no recourse.
All of the noise around the recent Board decision to keep the ROTC program, therefore, is not as misguided as Mr. Richman would have us believe. ROTC is not just a symbolic issue to homosexuals on this campus. Rather, it is an issue which, because of its relevance to the College’s commitment to its Equal Opportunity clause, touches on the most basic issues in our lives: employment, housing, our position as students here and our right to participate in any College program.
BART BINGENHEIMER ’94