TWO’s home state of Vermont continues to make LGBT history. Vermont created the civil union, was the first state to legislatively grant same-sex couples the freedom to marry without being forced to by a court, and was the first to override a gubernatorial veto in order to pass marriage equality. And now the state is home to another first: the first military college in the nation to create an LGBT club and host a Pride Week.
According to an article in today’s Burlington Free Press, Norwich University cadet Josh Fontanez convened the first meeting of the academy’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Allies club (NULGBTQA) on September 20, 2011 — the very day that the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” officially went into effect. About 30-35 students regularly attend the weekly meetings, which are held in an “open, glass-walled area” of the campus center, as the school’s website takes care to mention. The group’s motto is “You Are Not Alone.”
Fontanez said that Norwich’s administrators and students have generally reacted positively, but that the group has experienced some backlash: “We still have those ones who openly say that they don’t think that homosexuality is OK, that it’s a mental disease.” He added that many LGBT cadets still don’t feel comfortable enough at Norwich to come out of the closet or hold hands with their significant other in public, and that same-sex couples who wish to share military health benefits still face discrimination.
To raise awareness of these and other LGBT issues, the NULGBTQA is holding a Pride Week next week, from March 26-31. The week’s schedule includes free anti-bullying workshops, HIV testing, and a Queer Prom, along with a keynote address from Charlie Morgan, a chief warrant officer in the New Hampshire National Guard who is battling cancer and has testified before Congress, asking them to repeal the discriminatory “Defense of Marriage Act” which currently prohibits her from passing survivor benefits on to her wife.
What Fontanez and his fellow cadets have done is incredible and inspirational. By forming the nation’s first LGBT club at a military academy and holding the first Pride Week, the trailblazers at the NULGBTQA are helping to challenge and dispel the anti-LGBT stereotypes, misinformation, and bigotry that remain in our nation’s military and create a positive, affirming climate for future cadets of all orientations and identities. Bravo, soldiers!