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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal has roots in UW-Madison movement

don't ask don't tell

'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal has roots in UW-Madison movement

The military's controversial ""Don't Ask, Don't Tell"" policy is officially repealed Tuesday. Twenty-two years ago, UW-Madison became the first major university to officially criticize military policy toward gays and lesbians.

In 1989, gays and lesbians were prohibited from serving in the armed forces and could face discharge if they openly served.

At an emergency faculty meeting on Dec. 4, 1989, faculty called on the university to sever its contract with the ROTC if it did not stop discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation.

""I was very proud of the faculty,"" UW-Madison Sociology Professor Joseph Elder said. ""On the whole, they thought [the policy] was absurd.""

The faculty vote passed 386 to 248, but on Feb. 2, 1990, the Board of Regents voted against ending the contract, opting instead to continue lobbying the ROTC to change their policies.

The Regents' vote led to sit-ins outside then-Chancellor Donna Shalala's Bascom office, as well as at the Board of Regents' meeting room in Van Hise Hall.

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Police removed the protestors from Van Hise after 10 hours. Many protestors complained of police brutality, increasing the issue's notoriety on campus.

Following in UW-Madison's footsteps, Harvard University faculty voted to end their own contract with the ROTC program in late 1990.

From there, the issue traveled around the country, raising questions for the presidential candidates on the issue of gay and lesbian rights.

Incumbent President George H.W. Bush stood against gays' right to serve in the military, and challenger Bill Clinton, who ultimately won the election, supported them.

After Clinton won the election, he compromised on the issue with the ""Don't Ask, Don't Tell"" policy, which required the military not to openly ask whether a service-member was homosexual. But even with the change, if a service member was found to be homosexual, they were discharged from the military.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama said he would repeal the law if elected, and Congress officially passed the repeal in December 2010.

Gabe Javier, the director of UW-Madison's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Campus Center, said he thinks the repeal is ""a great step,"" but wishes to see more effort toward helping trans-identified service members, as well as civilian partners.

""It's certainly a long time coming and we're glad to support any service members who feel they can finally openly serve with integrity and honesty,"" said Javier. ""We're very happy about that, but we also know there's still a lot of work to do.""

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