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

By Tara W. Merrigan and Eliza M. Nguyen, Crimson Staff Writers

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.”

The Office of Student Life paid for the travel expenses of keynote speaker Autumn Sandeen, who lives in San Diego.

Sandeen, a trans woman who served in the Navy for 20 years, said that the repeal did not go far enough.

“On this day when LGB people will serve openly, transgender people will still serve in silence,” Sandeen said, subsequently holding a moment of silence in support of trans service members. “The solution of one problem brings us face to face with another.”

Sandeen and other speakers also said that the repeal of DADT would not mean total equality for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in the military. Several said that married gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in the military would not receive the same benefits their straight peers do because gay marriage is not recognized on a national level.

Audience members—which totaled approximately 30, though numbers petered out as the ceremony progressed—echoed these sentiments.

“This was a big test for the non-discrimination policy, and it failed,” said James R. Sares ’12, who is gay and handed out pamphlets in protest at the ribbon cutting ceremony. “The policy should not be flexible for political opportunism. As a member of a marginalized minority, I hope that I won’t be thrown under the bus if it’s opportune for Harvard to do so.”

Still, others expressed a general opposition to the military and militarism.

“I would oppose ROTC's return to campus even if the military were an entirely inclusive institution,” said Lucy C. O’Leary ’12, who spoke at the event.

Several students said they wished that the administration was more transparent and consulted students when it was considering welcoming the military back on campus.

Queer Students and Allies Co-Chair Emma Q. Wang ’11 said that the rally was an improvement over a protest in March, which featured students chanting from a distance while University officials signed a document welcoming NROTC back to Harvard.

“It’s better to have President Faust in dialogue—although it’s more like two parallel monologues than a true conversation—than yelling at her from across the lawn,” Wang said.

—Staff writer Eliza M. Nguyen can be reached at

—Staff writer Tara W. Merrigan can be reached at

This article has been revised to reflect the following corrections.


The Sept. 21 article "On Day Hailed as Civil Rights Victory, Activists Say Trans Community Was Forgotten" misquoted Lucy C. O'Leary '12 as saying that she "would oppose the military returning to campus even if ROTC was an entirely inclusive institution." In fact, she said that she "would oppose ROTC's return to campus even if the military were an entirely inclusive institution." Additionally, the article misstated where Autumn Sandeen resides. She lives in San Diego, not San Francisco.

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