By CLIFF DUNN
NORTHFIELD, VT – The military academy from which graduated America’s original ROTC cadets is celebrating another groundbreaking first: The Norwich University Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Allies Club (NULGBTQA) is hosting the school’s first gay pride week.
The weeklong commemoration, which began on Monday, will culminate on Saturday with the school’s first Queer Prom, which will be attended by Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin and Army Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan. Morgan publicly announced she was gay on Sept. 20, 2011, the day the federal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) law was repealed. It was also the day Norwich students formed the NULGBTQA.
In a statement, Joshua Fontanez, the president of NULGBTQA and the third-highest-ranking member of the Norwich University Corps of Cadets, said that the weeklong commemoration is meant to highlight patriotism and equality, and to try to educate the public about the challenges and issues faced by LGBT persons, including bullying, harassment, HIV and bias, based upon sexual identity.
The NULGBTQA was the first LGBT group founded on a military campus. The week of events at Norwich University, which was founded in 1819 as the American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy, also features a day for celebrations or issue discussions for each of the six colors on the gay pride rainbow flag. Norwich is also the birthplace of the nation’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program. The school was also among the first to admit women and African Americans into its Corps of Cadets.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was the policy prohibiting gay and lesbian military service members from openly declaring their sexual orientation.“The repeal [of DADT] is bringing a new wave of equality, a new wave of rights that so many generations have been waiting for,” Fontanez, from Brown Mills, New Jersey, told Vermont Public Radio [VPR]. The Norwich senior said that schoolmates didn’t know he is gay until after the repeal of DADT. The policy prohibited gay servicemembers from declaring their sexual orientation without the fear of official reprisals.
Fontanez, 22, plans to be commissioned as a U.S. Army infantry officer in May. He told VPR that he had always wanted to serve his country, but believed he would have to hide his sexuality. “It’s something I feel I was truly called toward and truly loved, so it’s great that I don’t have necessarily to make that sacrifice,” Fontanez said.
In addition to the participation of Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, Fontanez anticipates the return and support this week of many school alumni. “They are truly saying, ‘we’re proud to come back home. This is something we wish that happened when we were here,’” said Fontanez.
The future officer says that 30 to 35 members attend the club’s meetings- -about three-quarters of them from the school’s Corps of Cadets.
Approximately 115 of the 200 graduating Corps of Cadets members plan to be commissioned in the U.S. armed forces through ROTC.