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Joshua Fontanez
Proud Cadet

by

Denny Meyer

One of the oldest and most venerated American military academies, Norwich University founded in 1819, is celebrating an LGBT Pride Week on its Vermont campus this Spring, led by one of its leading ROTC cadets who is graduating this year.  Known for firsts, Norwich was the first military academy to enroll women and African American cadets (the first of whom became the Director of the Ground School at Tuskegee in 1942), and the university's on campus LGBT group held its first meeting on September 20th, 2011, the day that DADT officially came to and end.

Created by West Point graduate Capt. Alden Partridge, the university was designed to educate "citizen soldiers," aiming to prepare enlightened students for both peace and war, with both a liberal and military education.  The current Vice President of the university, Retired U. S. Army Colonel Michael B. Kelley, came back to Norwich, his alma mater, after serving 27 years in the Army.  He described the lifetime evolution of his philosophy towards the military service of minorities, -including women, African Americans, LGBT personnel, and others,- as a matter of asking himself if those serving under his command are "decent human beings, with honor and integrity," who have the education, training, and ability to do the job, without there being any relevance to their sex, sexual orientation, race, or other characteristics.  After his early education in a nearly all white high school in Manchester New Hampshire, and his years at Norwich when it had been predominantly white and all male, he had his first assignment, as a LT, at Ft. Hood leading his first platoon where those under his command were primarily African American and Hispanic.  Hence, for him, having a genuine concept of equality from the start of his career was essential to being able to provide the kind of leadership that instilled trust.  He asked himself, do we trust each other enough to serve together in combat?  That, he explained, is what matters, not skin color, gender, or sexual orientation.  With someone such as Col. Kelley being chosen to guide students at this military academy, it becomes clearer why it is the first to have one of its cadets lead a campus Pride Week.

Joshua Fontanez, 22, the Norwich ROTC cadet leading the Pride Week event at at the university, is the most self confident individual that I have ever spoken with.  Without the slightest hint of egotism, in a matter of fact manner, he outlined his plans for a military career, followed by entering politics, serving in Congress, and finally entering the White House as President.  It seems that President Obama has taught today's young Americans that nothing can halt their dreams as long as they are willing to work hard.  Joshua Fontanez has worked hard.  Currently, at Norwich as a Cadet Major, he is his Battalion's Executive Officer.  He began his dreams of a military career as a teenager, in the era of DADT, even as he began to be aware of who he was, knowing he'd have to sacrifice a lot of freedom to serve his country.  He didn't have time to worry much about what he might do with such sacrificed freedom; he participated in high school JROTC, served in student government, and did volunteer work.  Gaining a full ROTC scholarship, he hasn't wasted a moment at university either.  A political science major, during his summers he has attended Army Airborne School, Air Assault School, an LDAC Commission course at Ft. Lewis, and served for a month as a platoon leader at Ft. Jackson.  And all of that, alas, was "serving in silence" under DADT.

When DADT officially ended on September 20th, 2011, he didn't waste nor hesitate a moment either.  He and his fellow cadets, both gay and straight allies, held the first meeting of The Norwich University Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Allies Club on that very day.  This year, In discussing where and how to enjoy celebrating Pride this summer, the group realized that each of them would be way to busy becoming Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines (Norwich has ROTC for each) to have time this summer for that.  Joshua will graduate, be commissioned, and begin his service.  So they decided to hold their own Pride Week this month, on campus at the university.  They are not having a parade; rather, they are devoting the entire week to educating and serving their fellow cadets with programming such as an LGBTQ Bias, Harassment, and Bullying workshop, an HIV Prevention workshop and rapid HIV testing.  The point of it all, he explained, is to provide all cadets with the education and understanding to be better leaders in our diverse military. The week will end with a Queer Prom at which the guest speaker will be the Governor of Vermont, Peter Shumlin.

Speaking with Norwich University Cadet Major Joshua Fontanez made me realize that all the years of serving in silence, and all the decades of activism, had been worth the sacrifice.  Among the first class of graduating American military cadets to begin service openly in Pride, he has already demonstrated that he knows how to carry the torch forward in our battle for equal rights.  As he worked his way in silence through high school Junior ROTC and his early years of ROTC, his challenge was to not loose who he was, he said.  Clearly, he didn't.  Asked what he would tell young gay people now, he said, "Know that there is nothing wrong with you; know that you are not alone; there are people all around you to support who you are.  The challenge is what makes life worth living."

  2012 Gay Military Signal