Norwich University, the oldest military academy in the United States, kicked off its first gay pride week on Monday with sessions about handling bullying and harassment, the Associated Press reported.
The events are believed to be the first of their kind on a military campus, according to the AP, and will run from March 26 through March 31. There will also be seminars about HIV protection, free STD testing, "condom Olympics," and a "queer prom," where same-sex partners are welcome, Slate reported.
Norwich University cadet Josh Fontanez, who is gay, called to order the first meeting of the academy’s LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) club on September 20, 2011, the day the United States repealed the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy, the Burlington Free Press reported. They are believed to be the first LGBTQ group on a military campus, according to the Huffington Post.
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“It seemed like the right thing to do,” Fontanez told the Free Press. “Being a future military officer, and considering myself a leader, whether or not it was the popular thing to do, it was the right thing to do.”
The six days of events this week represent the six colors of LGBTQ flag, with each color representing a different queer issue or theme, officials told the Boston Globe. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin will speak at the queer prom on Saturday, as will US Army Officer Charlie Morgan, who publicly announced she was gay on the day the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy ended, according to the Globe.
“The official status has changed dramatically, in that public events that would have been prohibited are happening; but in terms of attitudes, I think cadets and midshipmen have long been supportive of their gay and lesbian classmates,” said Sue Fulton, the head of a group of military alumni called Knights Out who will host a dinner at Norwich, according to the AP.
Since the repeal of DADT, other military academies like the US Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut and the US Military Academy at West Point have also seen the formation of student LGBTQ groups similar to the one at Norwich, according to the AP.
"It's saying that we as a military community are looking 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," said Norwich Vice President Michael Kelley, a 1974 Norwich graduate who spent 27 years in the military before returning to the school, the Free Press reported.
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