When we’re creating spaces at Emory, one of our goals is to open a space accessible to all. With this said, it’s important to stay open to being self-critical and reflective of our practices in bringing groups to campus and how they may bolster or deconstruct divisions in the community. I ask you now: do you know a transgender person? Do you know the struggles transgender and gender non-conforming people endure, specifically at Emory?
As a trans ally, I don’t intend to name all the obstacles trans folk face. Instead, I am problematizing bringing an ROTC and military presence to Emory’s campus and how it will affect a historically marginalized population. As a queer-identified member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual (LGBT) campus community, I am strongly advocating against bringing ROTC back to Emory campus on the grounds that it overtly excludes transgender and gender non-conforming students.
With the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, some universities, such as Harvard, have considered bringing ROTC back to campus because the military no longer excludes lesbian, gay and bisexual students. However, as some LGBT activists and campus administrations have forgotten, the military definitively excludes transgender people from serving in the military. Despite backlash from community members, campus administrations on some campuses are considering allowing ROTC back on campus at the expense of transgender students. Therefore, before moving forward, let us acknowledge that by talking about bringing ROTC back to Emory, we are also talking about creating spaces that actively exclude students in our community.
Creating this space inaccessible to transgender students based on a discriminatory policy does not adhere to Emory’s Equal Opportunity and Non-Discrimination Policy, which enumerates gender identity and expression as protected from discrimination by individuals or groups on and off campus. Stanford’s Students for Queer Liberation point to transgender status, Gender Identity Disorder (GID) diagnosis, genital surgery or intersexuality as factors that can alone disqualify a student from open military service, according to the Department of Defense Instruction codes.
Additionally, there are no services in place to update gender, and trans-related health care is systematically denied to transgender service members and veterans. At Emory, we admit students regardless of their gender identity and expression (and celebrate gender diversity!), offer trans-inclusive health care and are actively working with the registrar to update gender and name changes to create safer spaces for Trans students in the classrooms and student health services. How can we justify bringing ROTC and military recruiters onto our campus when their values so clearly contradict our affirmation of our transgender friends and peers?
Clearly, there is a desire to have a ROTC program on campus. I understand and appreciate the opportunities, resources and skills it provides and appreciate the more recent inclusion the military has made regarding lesbian, gay and bisexual service members. After talking with friends, I hear the commitment, passion and drive for military service and serving our nation.
However, I challenge the Emory community to consider how introducing such a program would create a hostile and exclusive space on our campus. Do we really want to foster division and discrimination at Emory? What kind of message does it send to our transgender friends and peers if we allow this space? More so, if we can violate our principles at the expense of one identity, what other identities will fall to the wayside?
Realistically, I recognize that some people feel like this is a non-issue — especially if they do not have friends that are either transgender or gender non-conforming. The instance of discrimination may seem foreign or removed. I invite these people to educate themselves on the military’s discriminatory policy, attend a Transforming Emory meeting and be an advocate against the military’s discriminatory policy.
If we want to bring an ROTC program to Emory, we should think of ways we can help bring a program that is available for everyone regardless of their gender identity or expression.
Conrad Honicker is a College freshman from Knoxville, Tenn.