NMB petitions potential ROTC return

Feb. 1, 2011, 2:05 a.m.

The National Marriage Boycott (NMB)–a group founded at Stanford to protest marriage discrimination in the wake of Proposition 8–is spearheading a national effort to prevent the return of ROTC at certain colleges.

The youth-led organization has more than 15,000 members and encourages college activism by providing an established support network across campuses.

Although the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) in December ended the ban on gay and lesbian soldiers from serving openly in the military, transgender individuals are still excluded from service. NMB opposes the return of ROTC to college campuses whose non-discrimination clauses apply to transgender individuals, on the basis that the ban violates those legal clauses.

Stanford, Columbia and Harvard are three universities with such non-discrimination clauses. NMB is focusing much of its efforts on these campuses.

“What we’re working on right now with NMB is to create material to disseminate to other college campuses so that they can wage some large campaigns, or begin to think critically about their own ROTC campaigns at their own schools,” said Alok Vaid-Menon ’13, NMB publicity and communications director.

Vaid-Menon sees the ROTC debate as a lucrative opportunity to raise awareness about transgender discrimination.

“I really see the role of NMB in the debate as a reminder to a lot of LGBTQ people that it’s important not to forget about trans people,” Vaid-Menon said. “A lot of the time, the T gets left out of LGBTQ.”

Vaid-Menon and other members of the NMB saw the repeal of DADT as a huge victory for LGBTQ rights, but was frustrated by President Obama’s State of the Union speech last week, in which he said, “starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.”

This statement was made hand-in-hand with Obama’s call for college campuses to bring back ROTC on the basis that LGBTQ discrimination had ended.

For Vaid-Menon and others, Obama’s remark brought a sense of disillusionment.

“We felt very disenfranchised, and we immediately created a national petition,” Vaid-Menon said. “The White House had forgotten about trans people, and Obama was simply lobbying for political interest. He was being strategic, but in the process [was] ignoring a group of people who are stilled barred from military service.”

The petition, issued in conjunction with Stanford Students for Queer Liberation (SSQL), was forwarded via e-mail earlier last weekend.

“Tell President Obama that the military is not an open or affirming institution as the State of the Union address would have us believe,” NMB education director and SSQL leader Janani Balasubramanian ’12 wrote in the appeal.

Vaid-Menon mentioned that while most of its efforts are focused on student involvement, NMB also pursues other venues, such as communicating with certain members of the military and collaborating with other national LGBTQ-rights organizations.

SSQL has also been prominent in coordinating campus events and facilitating debate about the proposed return of ROTC to Stanford. Next month, SSQL plans to hold “Transgender Awareness Week” from Feb. 28 to Mar. 4.

“With NMB, I’m trying to work with sensitive people in the military to get them to recognize that discrimination is arcane and not really necessary anymore, and encourage a lot of people to lobby the military to try to change it,” Vaid-Menon said.

NMB also provides financial assistance to its college branches, and it has backing from Get Equal, a San Francisco-based LGBTQ advocacy group, and the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Vaid-Menon plans to implement a monthly conference call between NMB activists at schools nationwide to formulate new ideas for their platform.

“In the end, the effort is really about gaining wide support and media attention,” Vaid-Menon said.

The group is gradually becoming more visible. Vaid-Menon was recently quoted in a New York Times article for his work with NMB, the first time the group’s ROTC objection was publicized nationally.

“If Harvard, Columbia, Stanford were to make a decision not to return ROTC to campus on the basis of transgender exclusion, the sheer cultural capital of that would help effectively prove to the military that it needs to change,” Vaid-Menon said.

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