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Joe Davidson's Federal Diary

Todd Belok, 18 and gay, was kicked out of George Washington University's Naval ROTC.
Todd Belok, 18 and gay, was kicked out of George Washington University's Naval ROTC. (By Joe Davidson -- The Washington Post)
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By Joe Davidson
Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The law might be called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," but Todd Belok got kicked out of the Naval ROTC at George Washington University because somebody told.

Belok is an 18-year-old freshman who has wanted to be in the Navy at least since he took a trip to the USS Intrepid when he was in elementary school. The Navy is in his blood. His grandfather served during World War II. He refers to the military values of honor, courage and commitment so frequently that they could be his address.

"It's natural to want to give back to your country," he says. "The Navy is a great opportunity. There's no experience like it."

But it's an experience he won't have for one reason -- he's gay.

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is blatant bigotry enshrined in law. If someone in uniform demonstrates "a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts," that person can be bounced back to civilian life.

Simply being gay is not a bar to serving, according to Pentagon guidelines. But you'd better be deep in the closet if you are. "The military will discharge members who engage in homosexual conduct," say the guidelines, "which is defined as a homosexual act, a statement that the member is homosexual or bisexual, or a marriage or an attempted marriage to someone of the same gender."

Legislation that would overturn the law probably will be reintroduced soon. This time, those who want to dump government-backed discrimination have a supporter in the White House.

"President Obama agrees with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we need to repeal the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy," declares a statement on http://whitehouse.gov. "The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited."

Belok more than meets the key test as defined by Obama. Perhaps repeal, depending if and when it comes, could help Belok, but for now the political science major is out of uniform.

He's out because a couple of other NROTC members told on him. They saw him kissing his boyfriend at a frat house party. The "don't tell" part of the law refers to the gay person. Military culture encourages members to expose colleagues who break the rules.

"If one of our students saw someone lie and they chose not to report it, that's a problem, a leadership issue," said Capt. Brian Gowne, the NROTC commander, who would not discuss Belok's case directly because of privacy concerns. "Do you want an officer out in the fleet who looks the other way?"

Not long after his fellow students exposed him, Belok was summoned to a performance review board that snooped into his sexuality. The board found that "Belok did introduce his male friend as his 'boyfriend' and 'special friend. . .' " It goes on to say that "Belok did kiss his male friend on the lips during the evening."


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