Academy alumni reject gay group

Naval organization's board says geography was reason for blocking USNA Out

December 06, 2003|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

The board of the Naval Academy Alumni Association unanimously rejected yesterday an application by homosexual graduates to start a national chapter, giving as its reason the group's geographically disparate membership.

Skid Heyworth, spokesman for the alumni association, said the board did not debate before voting down the application filed by USNA Out, a group of more than 31 gay and lesbian academy graduates.

"The board was very decisive," said Heyworth. "The group just did not fit the profile of our alumni chapters."

He added that the association had never before rejected a request to start a chapter.

The application marked the first time homosexual graduates of a U.S. service academy sought official recognition from an alumni association. It was viewed by experts as a test of how far a military organization was willing to go in accepting gay and lesbian alumni at a time of "don't ask, don't tell."

Jeff Petrie, the 1989 graduate who filed the application on Veterans Day, criticized the ruling. "I'm not surprised, but their justification does not hold water," he said. "We followed all the rules, and now they are denying us without giving us a good reason why."

Petrie proposed USNA Out primarily as a social network for gays and lesbians - none still on active duty - who had lived closeted lives at the academy and in the military. But the group also hoped its recognition would pave the way for a wider acceptance of homosexuals in the military.

The 50,000-member alumni association said in a statement yesterday that its chapters have been based only on geography. Its board of trustees said it rejected USNA Out both because of its "diffuse" nationwide membership and because it catered to the interests of a "discrete group."

Sexuality not issue

Heyworth defended the board's decision, saying that the homosexuality of the proposed group's members was "never considered."

Asked whether the board would approve an application from a geographically concentrated group of homosexual alumni, Heyworth said: "I don't want to speculate on this, but it's certainly something the board would consider."

Aaron C. Belkin, director of the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military, a research center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, called the board's reasons for rejecting USNA Out "disingenuous."

"The geographic-area guideline is a new one put in place to disallow USNA Out from coming together," he said. "This move is consistent with the military's history of denying recognition and equal status to gay and lesbian soldiers and sailors who risk their lives for their country and are then told they are second-class citizens."

`Disappointing signal'

He called the rejection "a disappointing signal that the military is behind the rest of society - that it's on the wrong side of history."

Belkin added that the alumni association bylaws do not require that a chapter represent only one area, noting as an example the academy's Recreational Vehicle Chapter.

But in its statement yesterday, the alumni association discounted that claim, saying, "The RV Chapter serves alumni who are often on the road and as a result would find it difficult to participate fully in a fixed-location chapter."

Today, members of USNA Out in Baltimore and San Francisco are getting together to watch the annual Army-Navy football game, marking the group's first organized social events.

For now, Petrie said, USNA Out has no formal plans to file another application with the alumni association. But he said the group will stick together.

"This is difficult," he said. "But the Naval Academy has taught us well, and we're gonna hang in there."

Sun staff writer Ariel Sabar contributed to this article.

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