An open letter about don't ask, don't tell to my alma mater, from Rev. Gil Caldwell

November 25, 2010

Dr. Maria T. Palmer, Director of the Multicultural Center North Carolina A. & T. State University, Greensboro, N.C.

Dear Dr. Palmer,

I write this on Thanksgiving morning, 2010. For reasons I cannot explain, Martin King's words; "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" have been resonating within my mind, heart and spirit. And, more specifically, I have thought of A & T and the current debate on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", vis-à-vis, the military. Last May was the 55th anniversary of my graduation from A. & T. During my time as a student there, I spent two years in Army ROTC and although I did not go on to Advanced ROTC, nor was I an excellent ROTC student, I remember the pride I felt as I wore my ROTC uniform.

It could be that because of those memories, this morning I have wished that somehow A & T and/or the Multicultural Center could encourage our national leaders who are reluctant to reverse the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", to do so. It would be a way of gently suggesting that A & T that proudly boasts of the significant contributions of the "Greensboro Four", believes that the discrimination the policy represents, contradicts the commitment to equality that is at the heart of who we say we are as an American people. The four A. & T. students who "sat in" at the Woolworth store in Greensboro, demanding that they be served in 1960 influenced my years of Civil Rights activism since then. When I was a student from 1952-55 at the School, time and time again I walked by the store wishing that I could stop in for a sandwich or a soda, but I dared not knowing the negative reception I would receive. The "Greensboro Four" did what I was fearful of doing. Their witness prompted me to determine that for the rest of my life I would never stand silent or back away from discrimination that violated the principles that we as Americans claim are essential to who we are.

If those of us of African descent and our historically Black institutions that take pride in our successful efforts to challenge and transform legal racial segregation, are unwilling or unable to address the discrimination that persons experience because they are Lesbian, Gay men or Transgender, then our activism in transforming racial discrimination was/is self-serving and not much more.

We may disagree with each other on some particulars of the LGBT human rights struggle, but for us to be silent in response to the hypocrisy and contradiction "Don't Ask, Don 't Tell" represents, is to be silent accomplices to discrimination that we claim to deplore.

Finally, this morning, another memory is present within me. I remember reading that at the time German prisoners of war were detained in some places in the south, they were able to eat in white-only restaurants, while Black soldiers (in uniform) were forced to purchase their food from take-out windows often in the back of those restaurants, and eat their food outside while German prisoners sat and ate their food inside.

Who would have thought that in the 21st century, with that kind of history of racial discrimination in the military, Gay and Lesbian soldiers would be forced to leave the military when their sexual orientation became known?

"The more things change, the more they remain the same."

We who are related to A. & T. boast of our "Aggie Pride". We of all people ought understand the negative impact "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has on Lesbian and Gay soldiers who have "USA Military Pride", but are forced to leave the military when their sexual orientation becomes public knowledge. The DADT policy is going to be rescinded, sooner or later. Speaking out now will make that sooner rather than later.

Gilbert H. Caldwell Asbury Park, New Jersey