Repeal of DADT Just the Beginning, Says OutServe SLDN
On March 9, OutServe-SLDN held its national dinner, which included a "State of LGBT Military Service Address" delivered by its Executive Director Allyson Robinson before an audience of LGBT service members, veterans, family members, and allies. In it, she promised that the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was only the beginning of goals the organization would achieve.
During the address, Robinson shared her personal experiences as a transgender woman while creating a vision for a military that actively promotes the concept of equality while warning that the actualization of that vision requires ongoing effort.
"Our movement isn't just a fight to pass laws or enact policies; it's a campaign to change hearts, minds, bodies and ultimately a nation. It's not enough to check off the items on our policy agenda one by one and say one day, 'we're done,'" said Robinson.
"We're working to create a military that truly embodies the values of fairness and equality it protects, one that leads the nation in inclusion rather than lagging behind it," she added.
In an effort to make the goal reality, OutServe-SLDN has declared that it seeks to more than double its current membership of about 6,000 to 14,000 by the end of 2014.
The event brought out many recognizable figures including CDR Zoe Dunning, who was one of the first members of the military to be prosecuted under "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell"; Sue Fulton and Penelope Gnesin, the first same-sex couple to be married at the West Point Cadet Chapel; Anu Bhagwati, co-founder of the Service Women’s Action Network; and Jonathan Capehart, a member of the Washington Post editorial board.
Major Shannon McLaughlin, lead plaintiff in SLDN-Outserve’s McLaughlin v. Panetta, and Patrick Murphy, author of the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010" honored those who were not in attendance by recognizing them through the Fallen Soldier’s Table.
SLDN Has Long History of Supportive LGBT Veterans
Since its inception in 1993, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has been providing free, direct and confidential legal support to LGBT veterans, service members and their families while fighting for the rights of LGBT military both in the courts and through legislation.
SLDN has made significant strides toward LGBT military equality through the filing of the landmark case McLaughlin v. Panetta, working with other organizations to spread awareness, fielding over 12,000 calls for legal assistance, launching a petition to urge the President to sign an executive order prohibiting discrimination and harassment based on gender identity and sexual orientation and their involvement in the Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act, which seeks to make changes to the definition of spouse defined in Titles 10, 32, 37, and 38 of the U.S. Code, which would recognize state definitions of the term spouse.
Meanwhile Outserve, which began as an underground network of LGBT service members connected via Facebook and provided a safe haven for LGBT military during the reign of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," has now grown to more than 50 chapters and over 6,000 members worldwide.
When the two groups merged into OutServe-SLDN in October of last year, it marked a historic union of two organizations who tackled the issues of military inequality in two distinct ways.
Outserve-SLDN Co-Chair Josh Seefried, co-founder of the original Outserve, noted this trait during the announcement of the unification of the two organizations as he discussed the mission going forward.
"This comes down to mission first, just as it always is in the military. This is a great day for both organizations and for the LGBT service members and veterans around the world, who need a strong, unified voice speaking for them at the White House, on Capitol Hill, at the Pentagon and among the American people," said Seefried.
"What began as a simple effort to tell our stories has grown into something we could never have imagined, and this combination represents the next step in that evolution," he continued. "Each organization brings its own strengths to the fight for full LGBT military equality, and we are stronger together."
OutServe-SLDN has accepted its mission with a passion, recently filing an amicus curie brief for US Supreme Court case United States v. Windsor that challenges the "Defense of Marriage Act," creating the "Stories from Home" campaign, which features stories based on the experiences of service members and their families harmed by federal marriage discrimination, and advocating for the rights of Ashley Broadway, who was denied entrance into Fort Bragg’s Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses, based on discrimination against LGBT families.
Unfortunately, they have also seen a loss in the new year with the death of McLaughlin v. Panetta co-plaintiff Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan who passed away from cancer in February.
CWO Morgan was a vocal advocate for the rights of LGBT military and their families. She leaves behind her wife Karen Morgan and her five-year-old daughter Casey Elena. Due to the "Defense of Marriage Act," Morgan cannot currently receive the same survivor benefits afforded to non same-sex spouses.
In as special announcement, the audience was informed that the state of Hawaii had declared Feb. 15 "Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan Day" in honor of Morgan, who succumbed to breast cancer just last month.
Karen Morgan, Charlie Morgan’s partner of over 14 years, spoke briefly, but eloquently and succinctly stated the importance of sharing the human element that is a key factor in driving the movement for LGBT military equality forward.
"The one thing that Charlie loved most of all was telling our story, telling our family’s story, and that’s the one thing I’m going to ask of you all," said Morgan. "Tell your stories, tell your families’ stories, in Charlie’s honor."