ROTC Protests

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``The contradiction between the university's principle of 
non-discrimination against individuals on the basis of sexual 
orientation, and the presence of an ROTC that does discriminate, 
cannot exist on the campuses indefinitely, 
- John M. Deutch, provost of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

During the early '90s, the widespread presence of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) on college campuses became a major point of contention for queer activists. The ROTC's policy of excluding from participation openly gay men and women was strongly criticized and on many campuses, protests and administrative petitioning demanded the cessation of University support for the organization.

Indiana University's Bloomington campus engaged in just such a push over during 1990 and 1991.

Early Objections

IU’s protest began with an ambiguous clause in a new Student Code of Ethics, stating that Indiana University “does not condone” discrimination based on sexual orientation. During the summer of 1990, student leaders requested an investigation into the status of ROTC on campus, citing a belief that its discriminatory policies conflicted with the new Ethics Code. Ultimately, the Student Faculty Council voted to support a resolution asking that the University cease to engage with the ROTC program by 1995, unless the ROTC policy was changed. This resolution caught the attention of the Indiana University Board of Trustees.

Civil Disobedience and Administrative Resolutions

Student Civil Disobedience

Student protestors of ROTC, angered by the lack of administrative action and bolstered by the furor surrounding the Persian Gulf War, took their demonstrations to the next level in February of 1991. On the 22nd of February, a group of over 100 students marched towards Rawles Hall--where the ROTC office was--shouting such slogans like “ROTC Out!” and “Gentler, Kindler, Bush Needs a Reminder!”. They entered and occupied the ROTC offices in Rawles Hall. The protest and occupation of the ROTC office was peaceful; however, the following day’s similar demonstration, which had fewer protestors, resulted in the arrest of a 19-year old student.

Administrative Action

Although both the IU Faculty Council and the IU Student Council voted in support of a resolution to ban ROTC on the Bloomington campus pending a change in ROTC policy, and a city-wide petition to the same effect garnered 1700 voted, the IU Board of Trustees ultimately voted 8-1 to allow ROTC to remain on campus. Perhaps influenced by IU President Thomas Ehrlich, himself a former ROTC student at Harvard, the Trustees stated that they believed they had reached an acceptable compromise regarding the ROTC issue: support the organization's commitment to education, while simultaneously making an effort to reach out to the Department of Defense to change the military’s policy on homosexuals. They also cited the $2.5 million dollars in Department of Defense grants the ROTC presence made the college eligible for and the number of students at Indiana University that were on ROTC scholarships.


Regardless of the outcome, the ROTC debate that lasted for over a year represents a major showing of public support for the LGBT community in Bloomington’s history. To have collected over 1700 signatures in a petition, and for the issue to reach the Board of Trustees in the first place, indicates the seriousness with which the matter was approached. At the Trustees Student Affairs meeting, OUT President Joseph Clemans stated that the new IU Student Code of Ethics, which prompted the ROTC debate in the first place, had led to “an upsurge of pride and self-confidence in my community.”


Klassen, Teri. “IU Student Leaders Protest ROTC's Exclusion of Gays.” Herald Times, May 5, 1990.

Klassen, Teri. “Students Want ROTC Banned.” Herald Times, September 20, 1990.

Welsh-Huggins, Andrew. “Protestors Occupy ROTC Offices.” Herald Times, February 22, 1991.

Klassen, Teri. “IU Trustees Find ROTC Compromise.” Herald Times, May 4, 1991.

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