USNA Alumni Castro Chapter
Last Thursday, I attended the USNA Alumni Association Board of Trustees meeting where they were going to vote on whether or not to establish a Castro Chapter of the USNA Alumni Association. I was there with five other GLBT alumni. At the beginning of the meeting, they passed a micro phone around so everyone could introduce themselves. Just by odd luck, I was the first member of the Castro chapter to have to introduce myself. I had to stand up to get the microphone from an elderly alumni member and then said,
"I am Trey R, Class of 1989. I am a member of the proposed Castro Chapter." I passed the mike to Jeff and he said, “I am Jeff P, Class of 1989. I am the President of the proposed Castro Chapter." Then, "I am Zoe D, Class of 1985. I am a member of the proposed Castro Chapter." Then "I am Paula N, Class of 1985. I am a member of the proposed Castro Chapter." Then "I am Dave L, Class of 1988. I am a member of the proposed Castro Chapter." Then "I am Dr. Barbara W, Class of 1984. I am a member of the proposed Castro Chapter."
Every eye on the room was focused on us and you could have heard a pin drop.
Coming out is not fun. It’s always difficult. I usually try to do it with a sense of humor, a joke, to try to put the person I’m coming out to at ease, as well as to make myself more comfortable. Wasn’t it Chandler who said, “I make jokes when I’m uncomfortable.” This was not a joking situation. This is where I needed to stand up and say, “I’m Trey R, and I’m a gay USNA alumni.” And I did. I did it while fighting to keep my voice from breaking or just completely choking up. In a room of 70-80 USNA alumni and alumni association staff. We’re not talking about an open and warm environment.
My classmate, Jeff organized USNA Out last year. The goal was to get the USNA Alumni Association to recognize us at GLBT alumni. We want to support our school, it’s mission, but many of us had felt hampered by the fact that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is still the law of the land and joining a local alumni chapter was going to be uncomfortable. USNA Out never made it to the Board of Trustees last year. Our paperwork didn’t meet all of the criteria, so we never got to a vote. This year, we made sure our paperwork was in order, our mission was the same as every other alumni chapter in the world. To meet the geographic requirements (which is kind of bogus because there is an RV chapter), we picked the Catro District of San Francisco, the predominantly gay district in San Francisco. Before the meeting last Thursday, the alumni association released a press statement saying that they were going to recommend disapproval, so even as we made our way to Annapolis, we knew we were going to fail. But still we went. Jeff’s request to speak to the Board of Trustees was denied, but he did get a one-on-one meeting with Admiral Trost (ret), who is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. Jeff conveyed to the Admiral that were there because we love the Naval Academy and that we have proposed an alumni chapter that is free of discrimination. We had worked to make sure that the proposal for Castro Chapter meets *all* of the criteria used by the Board to reject us last year and that we request that the Board treat our chapter application as they would any other. We just want to support our alma mater openly and honestly. Admiral Trost did not support our chapter because San Francisco has a chapter already. But he did say that from his experience in the business world, that he does not take issues with those who are gay, that he was disappointed at some of the correspondence he had received from "bigoted" alumni, and that he admired (or some similar word) our courage.
If you’ve attended a board meeting, you know they are boring. I had brought my laptop and actually managed to get some work done amidst the membership committee report, the audit committee report, etc. We broke for lunch and we actually ate with other alumni and alumni association staff members. The meal was nice and the conversation pleasant, always remembering the golden rule about not discussing religion, politics, or sexual orientation in a mixed forum.
After lunch and a few more reports, they got to the part where they discussed new chapters. Admiral Trost started out by directing class presidents and chapter presidents to be inclusive, welcoming all alumni, including those of different "persuasions." The staff director in charge of new chapters took the podium and made some carefully prepared statement about the staff's chapter review process so that the trustees and the audience would buy into their justification for recommending rejection of the Castro Chapter. It was apparent that the Board usually goes with the staff recommendation when deciding whether or not to approve an alumni chapter. A motion was put before the Board to reject the Castro Chapter; and then seconded.
Now this is the hard part. The Board of Trustees member from San Francisco is a lesbian. And she spoke out on the motion. She spoke in favor of rejecting the Castro Chapter. While I disagree with a lot of what she said, I will admit that it took a lot of personal courage to talk about her personal life, about how she and her partner were welcomed by the San Francisco chapter, about becoming active in the chapter, and then eventually becoming a Board of Trustees member. I’m happy for her. And that’s what I would like to do, but I think being gay and open in the San Francisco chapter is a bit different than being gay and open in the Washington DC chapter, or the Alabama chapter, or the North Carolina Chapter. If there was one chapter in the US that was welcoming of GLBT alumni, I would expect it would be San Francisco. But by projecting her experience on us, by speaking out in favor of rejecting our chapter, she provided cover for the rest of board of trustees and the Castro Chapter was unanimously rejected.
After the PR blitz last year, the Alumni Association was prepared with a press release. It’s a little misleading since it claimed that the “by its own definition, the Castro chapter would have established an official gay Alumni chapter.” That’s not true. Our chapter mission does not mention the term gay or sexual orientation. Ironically, the press release also claimed the rejection was because of their commitment to diversity! Just for clarification, the board of trustees is made up of 29 members, two are white women, and there is one African American man. So it really is the picture of diversity. The press release also talked about “Inclusiveness.” Which would be easier to believe if one of our members hadn’t heard some of the board of trustees refer to us as “those faggots.” In addition, it seems that one of the themes from the board of trustees was to reach out to alumni to get them join the alumni association. With all of the press from the rejection, our group got three new members, all straight. One was from a female alumni in the Chicago area who had repeatedly tried to get involved with the local chapter there and had been repeatedly snubbed.
Anyways, it was definitely an interesting and exciting experience. We aren’t done yet. We’re still trying to determine our next move. But as Jeff said, we put a human face on our chapter. That’s a pretty good start.