Recently, an ad hoc committee consisting of Stanford students and faculty was formed in order to research the merits of the return of ROTC to campus. Last week this committee released a statement supporting the return of ROTC. Section 5.1 of the statement specifically addresses the argument of ROTC’s violation of the nondiscrimination policy.
To say the least, I was disturbed by the rhetoric the committee used to describe their reasons behind backing ROTC. An opening line in Section 5.1 reads:
This objection focuses on the alleged persistence of discrimination within the military despite the repeal of DADT and says that any restructured, on-campus ROTC program would make Stanford complicit in such discrimination.
The committee was dismissive of transgender people and their experiences. Those words—“alleged persistence of discrimination”—it’s interesting how this discrimination is “alleged”—as if it’s merely something that people talked about to stall, that it’s all ultimately a lie. Tell that to somebody who did experience that discrimination. Some students’ support of the return of ROTC and the military’s presence on campus led them to say (unintentionally or intentionally) transphobic statements. I had to face that. My transgender friends faced it. This discrimination is not “alleged.” It actually happened. If ROTC discriminated against women, an ethnic minority or a religious minority, we would not even be having this debate. The fact that this debate is even occurring in the first place—that there needs to be a <I>committee<P> on this—is in essence problematic.
But perhaps what is most disturbing to me is the argument that taking a stand for transgender rights is not worth preventing the return of ROTC. Here’s another excerpt from that statement:
We fail to see any good reason for the current exclusion of persons from the American military merely because of their transgender status. But our committee did not set out to determine whether all the policies of the American military are fully in keeping with the nation’s civic ideals. That seems to us far too high a standard to set in order to open the door to a more educationally productive relationship between Stanford University and ROTC.
I’m disappointed by the fact that protecting the equality of all Stanford students is “too high a standard to set.” Apparently, my rights are so unimportant to protect that I’m worth sacrificing for the greater good. This is all, sadly, part of an emerging pattern. Throughout history, transgender people have been left behind for the sake of everyone else. Gender non-conforming people led the Stonewall riots—the catalyst of the gay rights movement—yet, you don’t see their efforts acknowledged. Homosexuality was no longer classified as a psychological disorder in the 1970s, but transgender identities are still medically pathologized. In the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill in Congress that would give federal protection to LGB individuals, “gender identity” was removed from the bill so that it would get more votes (it has yet to pass in Congress). The “No on Prop 8” campaign excluded transgender people from their advertisements for the sake of making the queer community look more “mainstream friendly.” (Prop 8 passed, and gender-inclusive marriage is still illegal in California).
These were my battles to fight as much as they were everyone else’s. And when trans people were left behind, I gritted my teeth and accepted it. If my LGB siblings got those rights first, then it’s only a matter of time before transgender people followed suit, right? But that hasn’t happened. And I don’t think it will happen unless we trans people stand up for ourselves and say we deserve rights too. We’ve fought for LGB rights. It’s time people fought for us.
Now this pattern is emerging at my school. DADT was repealed, and again, I’m hearing the argument that since my LGB siblings can now serve, that the rights of transgender people will soon come next. Call me a pessimist, but I don’t buy it. That argument has been used way too many times, and way too many times transgender people have been screwed over.
There aren’t many open transgender people on campus, and oftentimes, our voice is not heard. I am glad that my peers have supported me, and I am thankful for them. But in the end, it’s the University that decides the fate of ROTC. The ad hoc committee’s recommendation is merely that—a recommendation. The Faculty Senate is going to vote, and ultimately the decision lies with President Hennessy.
I hope the Stanford administration doesn’t invalidate my identity for the sake of getting the few extra bucks from the government. Do we want to be the kind of university that throws out its nondiscrimination policy for political expedience? This is an opportunity for Stanford to make a statement to the rest of the country, standing up for equality for all students. I hope my university does the right thing.
Cristopher completed this column with the help of Leanna Keyes. Email Cristopher at firstname.lastname@example.org.