School board ousts JROTC
by Heather Cassell
Tensions were high Tuesday, November 14 outside and inside the San Francisco Unified School District's office with an estimated 500 or more opponents and supporters as the Board of Education voted 4-2 to phase out the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program by the 2008 academic year. The board directed that JROTC be replaced with alternative programs commissioners said would provide the same benefits without the military's involvement.
"I'm just shocked that this is happening, that they did this," an unidentified student said, wiping tears from her eyes as friends tried to comfort her after the decision.
Earlier in the evening, JROTC supporters were out in force and hopeful that the BOE would strike down resolution 65.23A1. The supporters said that one board member shouldn't have the power to take away a program that is very popular with the students and doesn't discriminate against queer students or act as an active recruitment program for the military.
Susan Zhen, Titus Nathen, and Geoffrey Webb, graduates of the JROTC program at Lincoln High School, said that there were queer students in the JROTC programs who were out. When asked if the San Francisco JROTC program was unique in that way compared to other JROTC programs, the students paused then stated that the program has the same standard against discrimination of any kind throughout the country.
Opponents have argued that while JROTC may allow LGBT students to participate, if they join the military after leaving the program, they are subject to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that prohibits service members from serving openly. They also cannot receive ROTC scholarships.
Commissioner Dr. Dan Kelly, who lost re-election last week and leaves office in January, spent years working to gain support to oust JROTC from the schools, which costs the district an estimated $900,000 annually and is in seven San Francisco public high schools, some of which have a large low-income and minority population. The original measure failed to pass 4-3 in the mid-1990s. Since then, however, times and the composition of the board have changed, with outspoken anti-war and LGBT community members saying enough was enough. Opponents maintain that the military has no place in the schools and are against the DADT policy.
Kelly's position found support from fellow board member Mark Sanchez, who is openly gay. Others who voted to phase out JROTC were outgoing board member Sarah Lipson and Eric Mar. Jill Wynns and Norman Yee voted against the phase-out; Eddie Chin was absent.
Opponents of the resolution were vocal throughout the meeting. Several times President Yee had to request order to allow supporters of the resolution to speak as well as request that people refrain from personal attacks on Kelly and Sanchez. Wynns filibustered, stretching the vote for the resolution into three hours. Despite all of the outcry from opponents, interim Superintendent Gwen Chan broke down and struggled to hold back tears as she opened the meeting with remarks about the issue. With people restless in a crowded warm room, Yee insisted that the vote be taken.
After the vote, Sanchez told the Bay Area Reporter that he supported the resolution mostly due to the military's discriminatory and exclusionary policies against LGBT people, "There were a lot of great things in the program and I want those to be put forward in alternative or new programs ... that don't involve the military's anti-LGBT community hiring practices, which is absolutely what they do in terms of hiring their instructors and that's the main reason I voted the way I did."
Longtime community activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca said he was happy the board passed the resolution and felt that it was to the board's credit despite a huge amount of opposition. "I am currently feeling excited because it was the right thing to do. I feel sad that so many people feel this is a personal thing against them. I think it's sad that in San Francisco of all places that people don't get that battling discrimination means sacrifices."