UR alumnus and activist Peter Perkowski returned to campus to raise awareness about the struggle for LGBT rights in the military.
The event took place this past Thursday. It was organized by the SA Government, Wilson Commons Student Activities, and Pride Network to raise awareness about discrimination against LGBT individuals in the military.
First-year Lionel Imena-Kirenga helped organize the event after attending a panel discussion on the transgender experience during Meliora Weekend.
“I was just heartbroken by the testimonies people gave,” Imena-Kirenga, an SA senator, said. “I felt like I needed to do something, so I spoke to Mr. Perkowski,who was there that day, and we made it happen.”
Perkowski works as a legal director for Outserve-SLDN, a non-profit association which serves members of the LGBT military community — a career he got into “by accident,” when a friend invited him to be on the board of the organization.
Perkowski opened his tale with the moment in 2010 when president Obama repealed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” policy of 1994, after 17 years of LGBT activist lobbying.
“Everyone’s thinking: Mission accomplished, right?” Perkowski said.
Only lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, Perkowski explained, were protected by the repeal, while transgender people were still prohibited from serving.
The discrimination was executed through a list of disqualifying medical conditions such as “psychosexual disorders, transvestism, a history of major abnormalia of the genitalia,” argued Perkowski. Members of the audience said this wording unfairly characterized transgender people as disordered or perverted.
Perkowski said the change came incrementally.
“The military is like a Navy ship, if you want to turn it, it takes a lot of fucking force,” Perkowski said.
In 2016, the Obama administration announced it would allow openly transgender people to serve in the military.l
The Trump administration has tried to reverse this policy, but its proposed ban on transgender service members has been stalled by various court rulings.
Perkowski and his organization are also engaged in the fight to provide HIV-positive members of the military with more rights and opportunities for advancement.
Individuals with HIV are not allowed to join the military and are severely limited in their opportunities for deployment.
“You can’t go anywhere,” Perkowski said, which could prevent enlisted LGBT individuals from winning medals and impact their opportunities for advancement. According to Perkowski, this could feasibly prevent them from receiving promotions.
The audience found disturbing Perkowski’s description of cases in which commanders ordered HIV-positive soldiers to to disclose their status to potential sex partners, even if they had an undetectable viral load, without requiring any discretion from said potential partner.
“So I have to tell you my business, but you get to tell my business to everybody and their mama?” senior Samekh Harris Reed asked in response.
Perkowski will be defending clients in three more HIV-related lawsuits this month and promised to keep his audience updated.