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The GW Hatchet

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Officials to clear homeless encampment near campus in May
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • March 4, 2024

ROTC, University policies differ

Although GW’s anti-discrimination policy prohibits bias based on sexual orientation “in any University-recognized area of student life,” a federal law against homosexual conduct in the armed services gives the Reserve Officer Training Corps an exemption from the rule.

Universities that interfere with ROTC recruiting regulations upholding the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue, don’t harass” policy concerning homosexuality are at risk of losing some or all of their federal financial aid, according to the 1997 Solomon-Pombo Act.

While University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg acknowledged the contradiction between University and ROTC policies, he said federal law takes precedence over GW policies and that University interference with ROTC regulations would result in a loss of major federal funding.

“We are part of a larger society and we have to observe the laws. We can’t pick and choose which laws we want to follow,” Trachtenberg said.

Last week GW student organizations Out Crowd, Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance and the law school’s Lambda Law held a panel to examine gays in the military and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Panelists included GW alumnus Patrick Moloughney, who said he was discharged from GW’s Naval ROTC after acknowledging his homosexuality. Servicemembers Christopher Neff, a Legal Defense Network Policy Associate who works on behalf of gays expelled from the military, and Alastair Gamble, an Arabic linguist who was expelled from the military because of his sexual orientation, also took part in the panel.

Homosexuality and the military

The military banned homosexuals from service in 1945, until Congress changed the law in 1993 to only ban homosexual conduct. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is defined as “an admission of homosexuality, the solicitation of another to engage . the commission of a homosexual act or a homosexual marriage or attempted marriage,” according to the Department of Defense Web site.

In response to universities interfering with the ROTC policy, Congress passed the 1997 Solomon-Pombo Act, denying federal funding to any university that interferes with military recruiting on campuses.

If a college takes “millions of dollars of government money, the government ought to have that right” to recruit without interference, said Doug Heye, a spokesman for Congressman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.).

Military officials said they don’t judge the policy and follow orders passed down from the government.

“The policy is that you don’t ask and you don’t tell. As an enrollment officer, I don’t care and I don’t ask,” said Major Jon Chytka, scholarship and enrollment officer for the Army ROTC at Georgetown University, part of the Washington ROTC Consortium.

All D.C.-area students enrolled in the ROTC program take Army courses at Georgetown University, Navy classes at GW and Air Force classes at Howard University. There are 132 midshipmen enrolled at GW.

“We support every policy to the best of our ability; it’s not our position to judge,” Chytka said.

Although the United States enforces a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, members of the European Union, including France, Germany and Spain, allow gays in the military and punish for discrimination.

Closer to home

At last week’s panel, Moloughney, who graduated in 1999, explained how he “tried to keep his two lives separate” but became concerned about an “anti-gay environment” in his unit. He said that although he was never specifically targeted for being gay, he witnessed harassment in a hostile atmosphere in the unit.

Moloughney said he wrote a letter to a superior officer acknowledging his sexual orientation, in “keeping with what the Navy teaches about honesty, courage and integrity.”

“Sexual harassment in the unit is dealt with severely,” said Lt. Jon Calvert, enrollment officer for NROTC at GW, noting the Navy uses hotlines and surveys to keep discrimination down.

“I was told that I was put on immediate leave of absence,” Moloughney said, which meant his full-tuition scholarship was suspended. He said he was later discharged from the program after a review board looked at his case.

If an ROTC member is found in violation of the code of conduct, he usually appears before a performance review board, a panel of three officers whose decision is non-binding, Calvert said. The most common punishments for violations of the conduct code are probation, a leave of absence or “disenrollment” from the program.

Military officials also said incoming recruits sign a paper declaring, “homosexual conduct is grounds for dismissal from the armed forces.”

“The military makes its policies clear to incoming recruits before they join,” Chytka said.

While Trachtenberg said the University has the ability to say, “we think certain laws are lamentable,” he said the University is required to follow federal law.

Trachtenberg said the consequences of breaking federal laws and interfering with military policy would have a negative impact for the general student body, mentioning the loss of federal funding for financial aid and research.

“Holding onto principles strongly is a terrific thing . I admire (Moloughney),” Trachtenberg said. “But he is a mature adult and aware of the consequences for him . it’s very different when you are an individual. I am not authorized to do it on behalf of the entire University.”

Different sides of the story

Although GW permits both ROTC and military recruiters on campus, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Wisconsin faculty and trustees attempted to ban ROTC. But both university presidents vetoed the proposals, according to a policy analysis by Lee Duemer, a professor at Averett College in Virginia.

Several universities also prohibited military recruiters on campus in the 1980s because of discrimination based on sexual orientation, including Columbia and Harvard universities and the Vermont Law School.

However, Harvard recently nixed the prohibition after military officials threatened to invoke the Solomon amendment, possibly leading to a loss of $328 million in federal funds, according to the Southern Voice, an Atlanta newspaper with a primarily gay readership.

Vermont Law School continues to enforce a ban against military recruiters, stating the school is “complying with state law, which prohibits discrimination by sexual orientation,” said Peter Miller, director of media relations.

Dean L. Kinvin Wroth said the school can function without federal assistance and the school has chosen to forego federal grants and loans rather than permit recruiters on campus.

But Chytka said universities that ban recruiters discourage interested students from joining the military.

“People want to be in the Army, they want to have a stepping stone to the future,” Chytka said. “By keeping students away from (the armed services), aren’t you hurting them?”

The SLDN and some students, however, said they promote military recruitment but discourage discrimination.

“We’re not trying to harm the military,” said Out Crowd president Graham Murphy. “We wouldn’t be pushing for gays to join the military unless we wanted more recruitment.”

But some students said the rule reflects society’s view of homosexuals.

“The ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy has its flaws, but it’s better than saying that no gays can be in the military until society stops being so homophobic,” senior Denise Sylvester said. “The military needs to re-evaluate itself because I want people defending my country that want to.”
-Mosheh Oinounou contributed to this report.

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