Beyond Gay Rights

Outside Loeb House, across from Lamont Libary, a small crowd of protestors gathers clad in warm clothes and high spirits. ...
By Tara W. Merrigan

Outside Loeb House, across from Lamont Libary, a small crowd of protestors gathers clad in warm clothes and high spirits. Holding signs decrying the reintroduction of Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps to Harvard’s campus, the  group can’t help but feel disquieted by the University’s recent agreement with NROTC. Months ago, these protests might have been aimed at the military’s controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. But now, they hope to advocate for another, less visible minority–trans-identified people, both in the Harvard community and beyond.

In the wake of the repeal, members of the queer community still say the military violates Harvard’s non-discrimination policy. As a result, they take issue with Faust’s signing on again with ROTC.

“Trans rights are often overlooked both on campus and in the larger world, but the return of ROTC has really brought these issues to light,” says Vice President of the Harvard Democrats Katie Zavadski ’13, who says that she sympathizes with Faust’s situation.

After Harvard first expelled ROTC from campus in 1969–amidst the height of Vietnam War protests–it defended the continued split with the military on the basis of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which Harvard considered in violation of its non-discrimination policy. With the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” last December, gays and lesbians can now openly serve in the military, and the University signed an agreement on March 4 that officially recognized NROTC, ending four decades of tense relations between the two institutions.

But even after the repeal, trans-identified and intersex individuals are excluded from military service; the military considers gender identity disorder, which is associated with transgenderism, and intersexism to be medical disqualifications.

In March, at the official signing ceremony reintroducing ROTC at Harvard, the audience privy to Faust’s speech included military officers in uniform, ROTC cadets, Faculty members, and journalists. When Faust talked, there was silence around her. But each time someone opened the back door to the hushed room, voices from outside blew in. “Drew Faust it’s not too late! Harvard can’t discriminate!” chanted the trans-rights protesters from across the lawn. And: “Put down your pen!” But Faust, nor anyone else, acknowledged their voices from the podium.

“I feel really sad, more than anything else,” says Cameron E. Partridge, a trans-identified lecturer on Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality and at the Divinity School who attended the rally. “I don’t think this is an uncaring decision. This just raises questions about how Harvard intends to uphold its non-discrimination policy.”

The policy protects University affiliates from discrimination, saying that “any form of discrimination based on race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, age, national or ethnic origin, political beliefs, veteran status, or disability unrelated to course requirements is contrary to the principles and policies of Harvard University.”


Several students attributed the vigor of the transgender community and its allies to the efforts of Jia Hui Lee ’12, who organized much of the advocacy around ROTC. Lee—the head of the Trans Task Force, a campus group under the Queer Students and Allies’ umbrella—drew up and circulated a petition calling for the administration not to recognize ROTC prior to the University’s announcement that it would do so.

“The trans community has been overlooked. I just want the administration to admit that,” Lee says.

Though the University has yet to release a statement explicitly stating it has violated its non-discrimination policy, several faculty members at the ceremony afterwards recognized concerns and said that they intend to work toward reconciling this issue. And after the ceremony, both Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds and Faust addressed the crowd, informing the demonstrators that the University would put those concerned about trans and intersex exclusion in touch with a staffer in the Department of Defense.

Although the trans community feels overlooked, several queer rights advocates on campus said that they do not feel ignored by the University.

“Let me make this clear,” says QSA Political Chair Sam J. Bakkila ’11-’12. “This wave of activism has not happened because the University has gotten worse in handling LGBTQ issues necessarily. This wave of activism has happened because the University is listening.”

The problem, members of the trans community say, is that they are not listening to everyone equally.

Miguel Garcia ’12, a member of the College’s BGLTQ Working Group, attributed the rise in protests to the Working Group itself. “The Working Group is analyzing LGBTQ life on campus, and students know that now is the time to have their voices heard,” says Garcia. “If they raise issues after the Working Group finishes their recommendations if a few weeks, then it will be too late.”

So the trans community is fighting to make its voices heard.

Lee and the Trans Task Force are currently working with the Office of the Registrar to create a “preferred name” field in school records so that transgender students will be referred to by a name that matches their gender identity. Furthermore, Lee and others will be holding “Trans 101” and “Trans 102” seminars, which aim to inform students, faculty, and staff about trans issues, in the coming month.

Though queer rights activists have been more publicly vocal this year, many said that the queer community and its allies have been striving for queer equality behind-the-scenes for the past several years.

It’s been unique to this year that we’ve seen so many protests, rallies and gatherings,” says QSA Co-Chair Marco Chan ’11. “But even in the past few years which have not seen as many demonstrations we have always been seeking to advance the rights of the queer community. This year our actions have been a bit more public than in years past.”

In The Meantime