Archive for January 2011

Until All LGBT Students Can Serve Openly, ROTC Should Not Be Welcomed Back to College Campuses

Thursday, January 27, 2011 § 4

Like many Americans, on Tuesday, I watched President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address. Though he didn’t spend much time on LGBT issues, Obama did give a nod to his LGBT (and allied) supporters with an oblique reference to the recently passed repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), a long-awaited victory for the LGBT community.

After acknowledging that gay men and women can now serve openly, Obama then called on all colleges to allow ROTC and military recruitment back onto their campuses, which many schools had forbidden in the past due to policies that forbade discrimination based on sexual orientation. While other bloggers have called on colleges to reject this proposal for the sake of peace and student safety, there’s a more obvious and pressing issue that many have missed.

Transgendered individuals can still not serve openly in the military.

Despite popular opinion, the repeal of DADT has no affect on whether transgendered individuals can serve. Individuals whose gender identities or expression do not match their biological sex can still be discharged from the military, due to discriminatory policies held by the United State’s military.

Hopefully these policies will be addressed in the coming years, as it has in other countries throughout the world. In Canada, Australia, Israel, the Czech Republic, Spain and Thailand there is no barrier for entry for transgender soldiers, and many are even supported through diversity programs.

But, in America, the day where the entirety of the LGBT community can openly serve in the military has not yet arrived.

On the majority of the campuses where ROTC is banned (Yale, Brown, Stanford, and Yale, to name a few), gender identity and expression are also protected under non-discrimination policies. Reinstating ROTC and allowing military recruiters back onto their campuses would be in direct violation of their own policies, as well as hypocritical, and openly discriminatory towards their transgender students.

President Obama believes that the repeal of DADT will allow us to “leave behind the divisive battles of the past” and “move forward as one nation”. However, this battle is not over, and will not be until transgendered individuals can serve openly, as gay and lesbian soldiers will soon be able to.

Until then, Mr. President, I respectfully disagree. Colleges should not open their doors to ROTC and military recruiters until all of their LGBT students can serve their country openly and proudly.

Review: The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd

Monday, January 3, 2011 § 6

I first came across Nick Burd's young adult novel, The Vast Fields of Ordinary, while writing my previous post on the MLA's new award for LGBT young adult literature (the Stonewall Book Award for Children and Young Adults). The Vast Fields of Ordinary was the first recipient of this prestigious award, and I decided to pick it up over break, as a welcome break from an endless stream of college applications.
The story is told from Dade Hamilton's perspective, a closeted, gay teenager stuck in the vast fields of Iowa, beginning at the end of his senior year. He contends with a closeted jock boyfriend who refuses to acknowledge him, his parents' crumbling marriage, drugs, his identity, and a new relationship, all before escaping to college in the spring. 

Nick Burd's novel is both a coming-out and a summer-before-college story, two subgenres which aren't exactly fresh. Though Burd's novel is not unique in its premise, it deserves a strong look -- and hopefully a few hours of your time.

One of this novel's outstanding characteristics is its characters, who're so intriguing and full, where I'd love to have some, Dade and his new-found lesbian friend, Lucy, to name a few, leap into my life so we could grab coffee. Others, like Pablo (previously referenced jock) and Dade's parents, can feel free to remain on the page, but that doesn't make them any less developed or "real". 

Burd's prose is also dream-like and, for a first novel, pretty superb. His metaphors easily spring to life; an example, pointed out by this New York Times review (scroll down) is his description of a bra on the grass after a party as a "listless amphibian". His prose perfectly evokes a summer before college: slow, lazy, and hot, but simultaneously rushed and bittersweet.

Through his dreamlike prose and developed characters, Burd manage to adeptly handle its powerful themes of self-acceptance, love, coming-of-age that apply to all of us -- straight and gay alike. 

Burd's novel isn't preoccupied with a sugar-sweet message, and this is what makes it all the more real, and powerful as a work of young-adult LGBT fiction. Though Dade's life definitely "gets better" after coming-out, it's definitely not a magical transformation. The book's message is perhaps best shown in the quote by E.E. Cummings which prefaces the novel, "To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting."

One of my few qualms with the book is its length. The novel felt a bit rushed, though who among us hasn't felt that a summer has gone far too quickly?

My other gripe is with a missing-girl subplot that The Vast Fields of Ordinary spends some of its already too few pages on. Though it did add to the dreamlike nature of the novel, I would've rather had those pages spent on Dade and the other characters, allowing them to grow further. 

The Vast Fields of Ordinary is not for elementary school kids, it's got both drug use and sex. But for those it's written for, teenagers, these aspects just make it more real, and I'd strongly recommend it to anyone high school age and above.

If you've got any questions, or have your own opinions on the novel I'd love to hear them in the comments.
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