WASHINGTON, D.C. — When you're enrolled at one of the premier universities in the nation's capital, it behooves you to be up on current events. That's why when MTV News visited Howard University on Wednesday (October 13) to ask students how they're feeling about the decision this week by U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips to issue an injunction declaring an end to the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, we got plenty of strong opinions.
"People should be able to express their selves however they want to," said Justin Jennings, 18, of Detroit. "It's your personal business. The government shouldn't really tamper with that. ... But it's the government; they do what they want."
Phillips declared the 17-year old policy unconstitutional on the grounds that it violates both the free-speech and due-process rights of people serving in the military by forcing gay and lesbian soldiers to remain mute about their sexual orientation under threat of being discharged. Jennings seemed resigned to the fact that even though Phillips' decision was greeted with cheers by longtime foes of the Clinton-era policy, it's likely that the U.S. Department of Justice could appeal the ruling in the next 60 days.
That issue and many more are likely to be topics of conversation Thursday when President Obama takes the stage for an MTV youth town-hall special called "A Conversation With President Obama." MTV has been talking to university students in the Washington area all week, and they told us what they would ask the president, just as other young voters will do during the one-hour event, airing live and commercial-free on MTV, mtvU, BET, Centric, Tr3s and CMT at 4 p.m. ET/PT and stream live on MTV.com, BET.com and CMT.com.
Maurice Gattis, 18, has a lot of gay friends but said the "don't ask" policy might be preferable to the alternative. "I believe that 'don't ask, don't tell' in the military is a necessary evil," he said. "Being that you're in that environment, and it's sad but true that being gay in our nation is looked down upon today. To be openly gay in the military, you might be opening yourself up to be targeted, so I think it's almost one of the things that serve as protection or a safety net for people who are gay in the military."
Another Howard student, 19-year-old Christianna Ware of Cincinnati, said she has several openly gay family members and applauded the judge's decision because she just can't understand why someone who is willing to serve should have to hide who they are. "If you're willing to serve in our national forces, you should be privileged to all the rights. You should be able to drink, you should be able to get married, you should be able to state your sexual orientation," she said. "But again, there's also the aspect that maybe you don't want to, but you should have the option. ... I do feel as if 'don't ask, don't tell' should be lifted."
Ware's feelings were echoed by a number of other students, including psych major Bertrom Tate, 21, who said the "don't ask" policy "dehumanizes you" and chemistry major Jacinda Small, 18, who agreed that the policy was just nonsense. "A soldier is a soldier no matter what their sexual orientation," she said. "If you really needed soldiers that bad, it wouldn't matter."
During his run for the White House, President Obama promised to overturn "don't ask," which has affected some 14,000 service members to date. He got some help in September, when Lady Gaga hosted a rally in Maine in an attempt to get the two moderate senators from that state to vote in favor of bringing the bill that could have repealed "don't ask" to the Senate floor. It was part of a larger crusade that Gaga fronted that included an oft-tweeted YouTube video and a trip to the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards with a handful of discharged gay soldiers in tow.
The threat of a Republican filibuster shot down the piece of legislation, and the upcoming midterm elections could end up shifting the numbers in Congress in a way that could bury action on "don't ask, don't tell" for years.
Whether it's "don't ask," the economy, job creation or some other pressing issue, you too can ask the president about his plans to remedy the situation. He will be taking questions from Twitter, as well as the live audience, during Thursday's conversation. From now through the live show, tweet your questions with the hashtag #ask followed by the issue that matters to you, so "#ask economy," "#ask jobs," etc. Starting Wednesday, you can also visit the Twitter Tracker to submit your question and see which #ask topics are trending with other users. Twitter users can also share their dreams and their worries with the president by using the hashtags #mygreatesthope and #mygreatestfear during the show.
What do you want to ask President Obama? Share your questions in the comments before asking the president himself on Thursday!
"A Conversation With President Obama," a production of MTV News and BET News, will be hosted by MTV News' Sway Calloway, BET's April Woodard and CMT's Katie Cook. The show will air live at 4 p.m. ET/ 3 p.m. CT (and tape-delayed at 4 p.m. PT) on MTV, BET, CMT, mtvU, Centric and Tr3s. The show will also stream on MTV.com, BET.com, CMT.com and Tr3s.com and will be made available on-demand 30 days after its initial airing.