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Yale's ROTC Discriminates Against Transgender Students -- And Violates University Policy

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I've always thought that being vice president of the U.S. is the best job in America; there's a six-figure salary, great healthcare benefits, and an excellent pension plan (and only three constitutional duties, to boot) -- what's not to love?

One of the more important tasks a VP has to complete is to argue with his rival in an internationally televised debate (though, in general, the outcome rarely has much of an effect on the presidential race itself). This year's spectacle, however, felt different -- the two men both appeared more presidential than their running mates. Whatever your political orientation, I'm sure that we can agree that the proceedings threw the opposing parties into stark relief, and also that the incompatibilities in ideology were clearly articulated.

Which, in a roundabout way, brings me to my point: Military law as embodied by the return of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) to Yale -- which discriminates against transgendered individuals -- is similarly incompatible with Yale's stated nondiscrimination policies.

ROTC has had a long and storied history at Yale. The first units were established in 1926, just a few years after the end of World War I. ROTC left the university in 1972, amid the radicalism and anti-military sentiments of the Vietnam War era. It had remained banned in more recent years in opposition to Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT), the policy that prohibited gays from serving openly; however, when President Barack Obama repealed that law, the Yale Corporation saw fit to officially allow ROTC units back on campus.

It now appears, however, that the administration forgot to read the fine print: though DADT did allow gays to serve openly in the military, it didn't affect the existing policy that bans transgender individuals from service.

Yale's justification for this form of discrimination (please note the irony) has been particularly weak. Consider the following quote from Dr. Mary Miller, dean of Yale College, as reported by the Yale Herald:

Dean of Yale College Mary Miller expressed that the military has already shown a flexibility to change their policies, but in the meantime compared ROTC to one of Yale's many restrictive programs:

Just because you want to row with the Varsity Crew, we're not going to let you. There are many parts of the program at Yale College that demonstrate a certain skill, a certain commitment," she said in an interview. (Emphasis mine.)

The question of how gender expression could qualify as a skill or commitment, however, remains -- as do the freshmen cadets and midshipmen at Yale this year.

If being transgendered is a skill, then being straight must be a talent, right? It's baffling that the Yale administration could overlook discrimination of a group of already-marginalized people, and then add insult to injury and be so insensitive as to compare gender expression to a varsity sport.

I love Yale, but it's embarrassing to me to think that my school could so easily legitimize institutional discrimination and so easily succumb to hypocrisy. Perhaps re-banning ROTC isn't the right thing to do; the repeal of DADT was a historic moment, and should be recognized as such. However, I do think that the administration should consider suspending the program until such time that a real conversation could be started about this issue.

One other thing -- Yale's employee health insurance covers sex reassignment surgery; for students, though, it is explicitly banned and listed with choice items such as "aqua therapy," hypnosis, and cosmetic surgery. It almost seems as if there's an internal argument on the true value of gender identity and expression, doesn't it?

To return to the VP candidates: Yale and her students are neither Biden nor Ryan, but the gulf between their views seems to have only gotten wider.

Full disclosure: I was a section editor for the Herald last year

This article first appeared as a blog in IvyGate