October 18, 2011
|Photo by Maria Belen Perez Gabilondo, AFP / Getty Images|
"Don't ask, don't tell" (DADT), the controversial U.S. policy designed to prohibit military personnel from discriminating against or harassing homosexual or bisexual service members while barring openly gay, lesbian or bisexual persons from military service, was officially enacted on December 21, 1993. This year, after nearly two decades of effort on behalf of the policy’s opponents, DADT was repealed and Edward Leffler (Class of 2014) had a front row seat in Washington, D.C. for the historic occasion.
As part of Rollins’ Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) Advocacy Internship, Leffler spent eight weeks this past summer in the nation’s capital working with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), an organization he chose not only because of his interest in military affairs but because of the opportunity it presented to work with the non-partisan group at the culmination of the repeal of DADT. As a strong legal and political force behind the policy’s abolishment, SLDN stood at the center of the issue.
“Working as a member of SLDN, I was able to become an expert on DADT,” Leffler shared. “Throughout the summer I was able to uncover its history and learn how the road towards repeal had been a rocky one. I learned how difficult and drawn out the fight had been, how people’s lives had been torn apart for representatives to gain political ground.”
As a communications intern for SLDN, Leffler was tasked with social media efforts, blogging and local and national media outreach. “As I began to work with the personnel who had been discharged because of DADT, I realized that what I was working for was worth something,” Leffler wrote in his blog. “I knew that I was doing the right thing.”
While the policy was officially repealed on September 20, 2011, long after Leffler had returned to Rollins, he was in D.C. on July 20 when President Obama, Defense Secretary Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen certified that the U.S. military was ready for DADT repeal. Leffler sat in the conference room as key officials took questions from the media and discussed the repeal’s far-reaching impact. “Many people at SLDN had been advocating for this repeal for more than a decade,” said Leffler. “It was amazing to be in D.C. at the finish line and to contribute to such a great cause.”
The LGBT Advocacy Internship Program was created in 2009 when the Johnson Family Foundation approached Director of Career Services Ray Rogers to see how he might like to use some grant money specifically earmarked for the LGBT movement at Rollins. “Often we have a need and want things to change, but money isn't always going to fix it,” said Rogers. “How best to utilize the grant money was a difficult question to answer.”
Over the last three summers, the internship has sent five Rollins students to the nation’s capital to work with one of many LGBT advocacy organizations. In partnership with the American University Summer Internship Program, Rogers is able to provide participating students with accommodations, food, travel expenses and a small stipend for the two months they spend in the nation’s capital.
Students apply through Career Services and accepted candidates then participate in an application process with American University and also by their chosen internship organization. “It’s an arduous application process, but in the end, the two lucky participants have an unforgettable and impactful internship experience which has typically resulted in a very rich give-back to the College,” said Rogers.
Students work directly with Mahjabeen Rafiuddin, director of multicultural affairs (OMA) to design and implement their give-back project after they return from Washington D.C. OMA provides support and guidance so these give-back projects are successful and makes positive contributions to the campus community.
Professor of Graduate Studies in Counseling Kathryn Norsworthy, recipient of the 2010 President's Award for Diversity and Inclusion, is a huge advocate of the internship program. “In order for change to happen, we really need to focus not only at the local level, but also at the state and national levels,” said Norsworthy .“I’m really proud of these students and their efforts to gain experience and engage in activism beyond Rollins. It is exciting to see them seizing opportunities to learn how to work for LGBT civil rights nationally, where they can make the greatest impact. Our students are the world's future leaders. My greatest hope rests with them because I believe they will be the ones that who make the lasting changes that we need.”
As for Leffler, he’s hoping to head back to Washington again after graduation. “The experience lit a passion in me to return to D.C. in military affairs or something more mainstream,” Leffler said. “It’s like everything is going on there and it kind of feels like the center of the universe. I definitely want to get back to D.C.”
Those interested in applying for the LGBT Advocacy Internship Program are invited to attend an information session on October 20 at 12:30 p.m. in Fairbanks 107. The deadline for applying is November 15. For more information, please visit: http://getinvolved.rollins.edu/organization/spectrum/news/details/4040?fromCampus=False
Watch a video about the LGBT Advocacy Internship Program.