If "Equality is the Prime Rib of America", as Lady Gaga declared last Fall, then shouldn't we honor those who sacrifice for those values?
Recently, I was frustrated to hear about a veteran, a Purple Heart recipient, who was booed at a forum at Columbia University while arguing for inclusion of Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) programs on campus.
In the case of the Columbia forum, students booed a decorated war veteran, who was severely wounded in combat, as he made an argument favoring the inclusion of ROTC at Columbia University. Anthony Maschek, an Iraq War veteran, has deployed to combat and been shot nine times in supporting his oath to defend our nation. It is an absolute embarrassment that anyone at an elite Ivy League institution would behave so arrogantly at a public debate towards someone who has sacrificed for the rights we all share.
The impetus for the debate on ROTC programs at Ivy League schools comes on the heels of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) -- the military's policy on discriminating against gays. The military's policy has been used as a rationale for excluding the military's leader development program from elite institutions. Now that the policy is on its way out, some believe that now is the time for ROTC to be brought onto Ivy League campuses.
I was and remain an active proponent for repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. I posted my first blog on the subject in December 2009, before the President issued his call for repeal during the State of the Union address last year.
"Equality is the Prime Rib of America." I agree. Today's most biggest music star made the declaration about equality at a September rally in Maine in support of the repeal of the military's policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. In the Fall, the repeal effort began to fall flat and out of popular favor in Congress.
Then came the "Meat Dress" at the MTV Video Music Awards and Lady Gaga's iconic moment in Maine. Although victory did not come before the mid-term elections, many give Lady Gaga credit for turning the tide that made DADT repeal a relevant issue. Gaga helped deliver "Prime Rib" to our gay and lesbian servicemen and women.
And now, our young high school graduates and others who seek to become our future military leaders deserve to have a piece of the "Prime Rib" too. Ivy League schools shouldn't discriminate against our committed young people who wish to serve in uniform by not allowing ROTC programs on campus. These young patriots have the right to be educated at the nation's top universities. Furthermore, we should want them to be educated there as well.
It was one of my personal goals to help in the fight for repeal because I saw the policy as misaligned with the Army value of loyalty. It certainly did not come without risk in jumping in the fight as an ally. As a straight veteran, I was ridiculed by some veteran peers and plainly questioned by others -- why are you doing this?
There were many reasons I decided to be vocal -- it was the right thing to do and it will benefit our national security. The same thing needs to happen at Ivy League campuses -- we need equality of opportunity. It will strengthen our nation, not just our military. To get there, we all need to recognize the strengths in diversity -- including those who want to serve in the military.
To quote Lady Gaga's new title hit song, "Whether life's disabilities Left you outcast, bullied or teased Rejoice and love yourself today Cause baby you we're born this way."
Unfortunately, it is more likely that the Purple Heart recipient has more appreciation for the meaning of this song than his peers who heckled at him for his devotion to our country.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ryan McDermott.