NORTHFIELD, Vt. — Barely six months after the expiration of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy prohibiting gay service members from serving openly, the nation's oldest private military academy is holding its first gay pride week.
Norwich University's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Allies Club held its first meeting in September within hours of the end of "don't ask, don't tell," the rule that prevented gay service members from serving openly in the military. Now, the organization is planning a week of events to be highlighted by Norwich's first queer prom, where Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin is going to be the keynote speaker. And many alumni are expected to return to campus, said club president and Norwich senior Joshua Fontanez, 22, of Browns Mills, N.J.
"They are truly saying, 'We're proud to come back home. This is something we wish that happened when we were here,'" he said.
The gay pride week, kicking off Monday, will feature six days of events — one for each color of the LGBT flag — with lectures and presentations on topics as varied as workshops on bias, harassment and bullying, to HIV testing to the Condom Olympics.
Norwich officials believe the club is the first of its kind in the country on a military campus. Organizers are hoping to get members of U.S. military academies to attend the prom.
Thirty to 35 people attend the club's meeting, with about three-quarters of them from the school's military arm, the Corps of Cadets.
Fontanez, who is the third-ranking cadet and who is planning to be commissioned as an infantry officer in May, said his friends at Norwich didn't know he was gay until after the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."
He said he'd always wanted to be a soldier, but felt he would have to hide his sexuality to pursue his vocation to serve his country. "It's something I feel I was truly called toward and truly loved, so it's great that I don't have necessarily to make that sacrifice," Fontanez said.
Norwich has about 1,300 students in the Corps of Cadets and 1,100 civilian students. About 115 of the 200 graduating members of the Corps of Cadets plan to be commissioned in the armed forces through ROTC.
Times have changed, said Norwich Vice President Michael Kelley, a 1974 Norwich graduate who spent 27 years in the military before returning to Norwich. The school was also among the first to admit women to its Corps of Cadets.
"It's saying that we as a military community are looking to more to the future, that we're not quibbling about the past, what was or what wasn't, that we can take a leadership role to help move our students to a more enlightened future," Kelley said.