Lesbian and gay advocates have applauded the Department of Defence’s university after it elected an openly gay man to the post of student council president.

The Uniformed Services University, a Department of Defence military medical, nursing and graduate school, elected Patrick High to lead its student government, in what campaigners are calling a step forward in the fight to repeal the military’s controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

The policy bars openly gay and lesbian people from serving in the armed forces.

Mr High, who will represent graduate students at the university, previously served nine years in the Illinois Army National Guard and is currently a PhD candidate at USU.

He was elected by a student body that includes uniformed personnel in the armed forces.

“Patrick High’s election as student council president is just the latest in a series of signs that those serving in our armed forces are ready to welcome openly gay colleagues,” said C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defence Network

“High was elected based on his qualifications for the post, and that same criteria should be the guiding force throughout the military. His fellow students, including military students, have placed their trust in a leader who represents their ideals and goals.”

Mr High says he hopes to “change military students’ perspective that gays can and have served in the military and worked well with their straight counterparts.” His other objectives include pursuing health insurance for civilian graduate students and keeping USU competitive with other universities in the metropolitan Washington DC area.

Earlier this summer, a West Point graduate received a prestigious academic award for his thesis opposing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” A recent poll by the Annenberg Foundation also found that fifty percent of junior enlisted personnel now favour allowing gays to serve openly.

In May, Lieutenant General Claudia Kennedy, the first woman to achieve the rank of three-star general in the Army, called for repeal of the law, saying it is “a hollow policy that serves no useful purpose.”

Congressional legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is now supported by a bi-partisan coalition of 119 lawmakers.

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