A gay George Washington University freshman has found himself at the center of the conflict over the federal “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy after being dismissed from the school’s Navy ROTC program.
Todd Belok gained admission to GWU through its early decision program for the fall 2008 semester. While still a senior in high school, he contacted the GWU NROTC battalion in Washington, D.C. to ask about enrolling. Belok hoped to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, who served in World War II.
As a gay man, Belok said he understood how difficult it could be to conceal his homosexuality while serving in the armed forces.
“I had done a report on `don’t ask, don’t tell’ in 12th grade,” he explained in an interview with The Hoya. “I knew what it meant to be gay in the military.”
Nonetheless, he planned to keep his sexual orientation under wraps for the time being.
Last fall, however, Belok’s boyfriend visited him at GWU and the two attended a fraternity party where other NROTC members saw them together.
“We kissed at the party,” he said. “I was surprised when my commanding officer called me about it a few weeks later.”
What Belok did not know was that two other midshipmen who had attended the party, GWU freshman Dave Perry and Squad Leader Nick Trimis, a GWU senior, reported his actions to Lt. Kathleen Meeuf, an assistant professor of naval science. Still, Belok said, he expected that the situation would be swept under the rug without much controversy.
Yet, just a month later, he learned that he would either have to withdraw from the NROTC program or face a Performance Review Board. After consulting with Servicemembers’ Legal Defense Network attorneys, who advised that he withdraw and re-enter the Navy after college through the Officers Candidates School, Belok chose instead to go in front of the PRB.
In October, the PRB recommended Belok for disenrollment and dismissed him from the battalion in December.
Belok was removed from the NROTC despite a GWU policy which protects students in school-sponsored clubs from discrimination based on sexual orientation.
According to the university’s Guide to Student Rights and Responsibilities for the 2008 – 2009 school year, “The university will not permit discrimination on grounds of sex, race, color, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation or identity, or any other illegal basis in any university-recognized area of student life.”
Lieutenant Colonel Dan Koprowski, professor of military science and the head of Georgetown’s ROTC program, said that Georgetown had not dealt with any similar situations during his tenure.
“I am not aware of any ROTC cadet at Georgetown having been separated from the program under `don’t ask, don’t tell.’ If it has happened, it was before I arrived in July 2007,” he said in an e-mail.
President Bill Clinton (SFS ’68) tried unsuccessfully to fulfill a campaign promise to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces. After encountering resistance from congressional and military leaders, he agreed to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy as a compromise. Congress voted to instate the policy in 1993 and President Clinton signed it into law.
Under this policy, gays and lesbians are allowed to serve in the military, as long as they do not actively engage in homosexual conduct
“Sexual orientation will not be a bar to service unless manifested by homosexual conduct,” the policy states. “The military will discharge members who engage in homosexual conduct, which is defined as a homosexual act, a statement that the member is homosexual or bisexual, or a marriage or attempted marriage to someone of the same gender.”
Although the military no longer asks prospective soldiers to disclose their sexual orientation under the new policy, it does allow for the dismissal of soldiers who demonstrate a propensity for homosexual conduct.
“Bodily contact between service members of the same sex that a reasonable person would understand to demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts (e.g., hand-holding or kissing in most circumstances) will be sufficient to initiate separation [from the military],” the policy states.
Belok, who received numerous messages of support from other servicemen and women, plans to help push for this change. He is attending the “Freedom to Serve Rally,” sponsored by the Servicemembers’ Legal Defense Network, which hopes to incite progress in repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He and other supporters of homosexuals in the military will rally on Capitol Hill on March 13.
Despite being dismissed from the NROTC, Belok still hopes to someday serve his country in the military.
“I don’t have any resentment against my battalion or the Navy. After all, they just carried out a Defense Department policy,” he said. “I cannot rejoin the Navy unless the current policy changes, and I’m focused on lobbying Congress to ensure that happens.”