Woman rejected as officer material

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THE CITADEL, a 150-year-old military college in South Carolina, is choosy about its students, but when administrators saw an application from one Shannon Faulkner, they were pretty sure they saw the makings of an excellent cadet.

Here was someone with good academic grades, who would adapt to drills, spotless uniforms and discipline. So they fired off an acceptance letter, no doubt hoping they had netted a future general.

Then they found out: their new recruit was not the all-American boy they had imagined, but a young woman. Worse, a woman who had concealed her gender by failing to mention it in her application.

As one of only two all-male state-assisted military colleges in the United States, this clearly would not do. Her place was cancelled. Ms Faulkner, 18, was not happy. She promptly sued, precipitating another round in the battle over sex and gender in the military.

Only last week the head of the mostly male US Marine Corps was embarrassingly forced to retract plans to stop recruiting married soldiers, within hours of announcing them. Yet again, America's military traditionalists (already balking at the thought of accepting homosexuals) find themselves under attack.

In nine days' time, Ms Faulkner will set off for her first day at The Citadel, armed with a federal judge's injunction which says she can go to classes alongside the cadets until her case is settled.

She is unlikely to be welcomed with a 21-gun salute. The college's 11-strong board (all ex-cadets) has decided unanimously to appeal, hoping the courts will intervene before she arrives. 'We need to preserve our status as a single-gender institution,' said Major Rick Mill, pointing out that this produced higher academic standards. So Ms Faulkner, who desperately wants to be a cadet, an officer and a gentleperson, will not be allowed to do anything with the 2,000- strong corps outside the classroom: no uniform, no marching, no parades. But, one guesses, a lot of Brownie points from many other women who would also like the right to join in.

'That's what this fight's about. I do want to be a member of the corps of cadets and that I will continue to fight for,' Ms Faulkner said.