C. Dixon Osburn, co-founder and former CEO of the Servicmembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), has written Mission Possible: The Story of the Repealing of 'Don't Ask Don't Tell'.
This is the inside story of SLDN, which was founded in 1993 in response to implementation of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT), a policy which banned open service by lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) service members. The policy had been presented by the Clinton administration as a compromise but in practice resulted in increased harassment, criminal charges and the discharge of more than 13,000 service members.
The new organization was created to provide legal services to individuals who were LGB or who were threatened because they were perceived to be, to act as a watchdog, and as a policy influencer. It was the only organization solely dedicated to DADT repeal. Osburn was a graduate of Georgetown University Law without military experience and his co-founder Michelle Benecke a new graduate of Harvard Law and a former Army captain.
Any such history of a 17-year fight in court, Congress and public opinion would have to be told in the form of many, many personal and career stories and through tales of strategic planning and agility. Such a story could get bogged down. It doesn't. Following the story lines and nuanced outcomes at each step is truly suspenseful and engaging.
In the 1990s, SLDN was a small but fiery organization which relied on the "N" for network, marshaling the involvement of allies in nonprofits, law firms, government and the military. It helped many LGB service members whose cases moved the cause forward publicly but it also helped scores who benefited from the visibility of those cases and from SLDN's fact sheets and comprehensive annual publications.
SLDN creatively engaged with interrelated issues such as recoupment (discharged members required to pay back the cost of their military education), outings during investigations for security clearances, confidentiality when speaking with chaplains and counselors and exceptions to DADT that revealed some absurd ramifications. It confronted the policies of discharging HIV/AIDS+ service members and disqualifying HIV/AIDS+ veterans from benefits, Its work in one discharge case had timely influence on the development of privacy law.
Find the book at www.amazon.com/Mission-Possible-Story-Repealing-Dont/dp/173748241X .
Jean Albright is a 20-year Air Force veteran and served on the SLDN board of directors from 2003 to 2009.