On Day Hailed as Civil Rights Victory, Activists Say Trans Community Was Forgotten

Hours after President Drew G. Faust led a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and the return of the Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps to Harvard, Lecturer Timothy P. McCarthy ’93 and a number of students spoke out against the University’s decision.

In an unusual twist, College administrators sponsored the rally and Faust delivered the opening remarks.

“The University is in a bit of pickle or queer situation where they have to mark both [NROTC’s return and students’ dissent],” McCarthy said.

Unlike many of the speakers that would follow—who criticized the University’s decision—Faust did not mention many of the most controversial issues, including the military’s exclusion of transgender people, that drew attendees to the rally.

“She did not talk about trans issues at all today, but I do appreciate her being a part of this event,” Jia Hui Lee ’12, the student head of the Trans Task Force.

Faust left the rally after she delivered her brief remarks—which highlighted the historic importance of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for gay, lesbian, and bisexual servicemen and women.

The speeches that followed criticized the University and expressed mixed emotions—joy that the repeal signifies a step toward greater equality and disappointment that it does not do more to advance queer rights.

The rally was one of several events organized to recognize the December repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”—the military policy that banned gays, lesbians, and bisexuals from serving openly in the military. In March, Faust announced that the University would begin officially recognizing NROTC. Tuesday, the repeal took effect.

But some Harvard community members have continued to voice opposition to the decision, arguing that the military violates Harvard’s non-discrimination policy since it does not allow people who are transgender to serve.

“Today marks a milestone in the long struggle for human rights,” McCarthy said. “But today is only a partial victory.”

“Incomplete justice is still injustice,” he added.

Some in attendance noted the unusual nature of the rally. Protests at Harvard have historically been student-led and anti-administration; however, this event was sponsored by the Office of Student Life.

“We didn’t want people protesting on the outside, on the periphery of this day,” said new Assistant Dean of Harvard College for Student Life Emelyn A. dela Pena. “We wanted them to be a part of this day.”

Some student activists questioned the College’s motives for organizing the rally.

“As the leader of a student organization with members that identify as gender queer or gender non-conforming, to ask students not to protest the ribbon cutting to me is deeply disturbing,” Queer Students and Allies Co-Chair Samuel Bakkila ’12 said. “We were never explicitly asked not to by the administration, but the undercurrent was there.”