(Washington, D.C.) In her first State of LGBT Military Equality Address, which took place tonight in Washington, D.C.at the OutServe-SLDN 2013 National Dinner, Army Veteran and Executive Director Allyson Robinson set a goal of reaching 14,000 actively serving OutServe-SLDN members by the end of 2014. Before the crowd of nearly 1000 service members, veterans, and supporters, she also cautioned against becoming complacent in the fight for full LGBT military equality.
"We need to be stronger because at its heart, our movement isn't just a fight to pass laws or enact policies; it's a campaign to change hearts, minds, 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.' 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 said.
"So tonight I'm announcing a new goal. Tonight we commit ourselves to growing our membership from our current 6,000 to 14,000 actively serving members by the end of 2014 that's one for every soldier, sailor, airman, marine, and coast guardsman kicked out under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell," she said.
Additionally, Robinson previewed the creation of new categories of membership to expand the OutServe-SLDN influence.
"We begin tonight with categories for our veterans and our straight allies; in the weeks and months ahead, we'll expand further to take advantage of the full strength of America's diverse military family and to ensure we're not leaving anyone behind," she said.
Robinson cautioned supporters against becoming complacent in the wake of the extension of some benefits to same-sex military families and as the nation awaits a decision from the Supreme Court related to the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) later this year.
"The fight for full LGBT equality in our armed forces is far from over. In fact, it's just getting started. LGBT troops still lack even the most basic nondiscrimination protections protections that have been the standard with other American employers for years. The Defense of Marriage Act still denies LGBT military families the most important support services things like health insurance and survivor benefits. Qualified Americans who are transgender and who want to serve in uniform are still forbidden from doing so by medical regulations that have become ridiculously obsolete. And despite the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," thousands of our troops are still in the closet, afraid of what coming out might mean for their careers, their families," she said.
The 2013 OutServe-SLDN National Dinner also featured appearances by former Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-PA); reality television stars and winners of CBS's "The Amazing Race," Josh Kilmer-Purcell and his partner Brent Ridge (The Fabulous Beekman Boys); New York stage sensations, The Broadway Boys; Washington Post opinion writer and MSNBC contributor Jonathan Capehart; Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson; and the first same-sex couple to wed in the West Point Cadet Chapel, Sue Fulton and Penelope Gnesin.
The State of LGBT Military Service Address as prepared for delivery by Allyson Robinson, Executive Director, OutServe-SLDN. Saturday, March 9, 2013.
In 1990, a U.S. Senator gave me the best news I'd ever received. I was to report to the United States Military Academy at West Point for what the Army refers to as Cadet Basic Training, but what new cadets for generations have been calling Beast Barracks six weeks of hard - core military indoctrination aimed not just at turning young people into soldiers, but at teaching a bunch of overachieving teenage prima donas how to live, work, and fight together as a team. Twenty percent of new cadets never make it through Beast.
And I couldn't wait to get there. Attending West Point had been my life - long dream. My dad was a soldier, and for as long as I could remember I'd dreamt of following in his boot - steps. I had to apply to West Point three times before I got accepted, and with each rejection I'd dug deeper, trained longer, studied harder.
When that phone call finally came, I just knew I could handle anything West Point could throw at me.
So no one was more surprised than me when, three weeks into Beast Barracks, I used my weekly ten - minute allotment of phone time to call home and say, "Dad, I'm quitting." There was a long pause, and then my father, his raspy, sergeant's voice uncharacteristically quiet with earnestness, said, "You can quit, but if you do, don't come home."
Now before you judge him too harshly, you should know that right before I left for Beast, I told my dad to say that. I really believed I was ready to succeed, but on the off chance I needed a good, swift kick in the pants to bring me through, I wanted to make sure someone had permission to give it to me.
I had to wipe tears from my eyes before I came out of the phone booth that day, lest any upperclassmen see me crying. And I had to think long and hard about what brought me there, what I wanted for my life, and what it was all worth to me.
And eventually, with the support of my family, my classmates, and a cute cadet from Charlie Company named Danyelle who went on to became my partner for life, I made it. No we made it. Four years later, when I graduated and my dad, Command Sergeant Major Donald Robinson, gave me my first salute, I returned it not just because it was regulation, but because the victory was his as much as it was mine. With his help, and the help of countless others, I accomplished something we had all questioned was even possible during Beast.
That's our story, the story of a family sticking together to achieve a goal so lofty none of us could have done it on our own but in many ways, it's our story, isn't it? It's the story of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which stood up in 1993 to defend service members against the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law and grew to assist more than 13,000 LGBT service members and veterans, many of whom went on to become supporters, board members, and staffers themselves. And it's the story of OutServe, which began as an underground network of enterprising LGBT service members connecting with one another for mutual support, but quickly became a driving force behind the effort to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," lending the movement a moral power that was undeniable one that helped all America to feel the shame "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" had brought upon our country. And it's your story, each one of you whose lives were touched by the work of these great organizations over the years. Working together, together with you, SLDN and OutServe helped lead our community and our allies in the execution of an incredibly complex battle plana textbook lobbying, grassroots and messaging effort that culminate d in what the New York Times called "one of the most important civil rights votes of our time." And they made history. Today, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is a memory and a lesson about what we can achieve when we work together.
Now, that historic victory is just that history. But the fight for full LGBT equality in our armed forces is far from over. In fact, it's just getting started. LGBT troops still lack even the most basic non-discrimination protections protections that have been the standard with other American employers for years. The Defense of Marriage Actstill denies LGBT military families the most important support services things like health insurance and survivor benefits. Qualified Americans who are transgender and who want to serve in uniform are still forbidden from doing so by medical regulations that have become ridiculously obsolete. And despite the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," thousands of our troops are still in the closet, afraid of what coming out might mean for their careers, their families.
To meet these challenges, OutServe and SLDN made history yet again by setting egos and agendas aside to become one organization. Today, with a membership of more than 6,000 actively serving LGBT troops and our respected presence here in DC, we're stronger than ever. Anyone who questions that, well, they're just not paying attention. In the four months since our merger we've broken through years of Pentagon intransigence to win much - needed benefits for our families...shaped the national debate about what it takes to be Secretary of Defense and lead today's armed forces...prevailed upon now - Secretary Chuck Hagel to make the strongest, most unequivocal commitment to LGBT equality ever expressed by a nominee for the position...looked blatant, entrenched discrimination dead in the eye at Ft. Bragg, and won.
We're definitely stronger together. But to get where we need to go, we will need to be stronger still.
We need to be stronger because at its heart, our movement isn't just a fight to pass la
ws or enact policies; it's a campaign to change hearts, minds, 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." 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.
We're building a professional network to ensure LGBT troops receive the same opportunities for development and mentorship as their colleagues, and we're building communities of support so that LGBT families who aren't welcomed get the encouragement and care they need. We do it for ourselves and our families, we do it because we recognize that it's crucial to our national security, and we do it because we know that if we don't, no one will.
So tonight I'm announcing a new goal. Tonight we commit ourselves to growing our membership from our current 6,000 to 14,000 actively serving members by the end of 2014 that's one for every soldier, sailor, airman, marine, and coast guardsman kicked out under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Additionally, we're creating new categories of membership to expand our influence and to model ourselves the inclusion we hope to build. We begin tonight with categories for our veterans and our straight allies; in the weeks and months ahead, we'll expand further to take advantage of the full strength of America's diverse military family and to ensure we're not leaving anyone behind. Getting from here to there won't be easy. In fact, the tasks ahead will be tougher than any we've tackled before.
And that means we dig deeper and work harder. It means we demand even more from ourselves, because that's what it takes to win. It means we all need to think long and hard about what brought us here, what we want for our country, and what it's worth to us. Hearts and minds, you see, are notoriously resistant to change - so much so, in fact, that it can become perilously tempting to give up trying, to give up hope, to give up. When you reach that point, I want you to remember this. When I began my gender transition, like many of you at the start of your own "coming out" journey, I was completely alone. I'd never in my life told anyone how I felt, and I'd never known anyone who had done what I was contemplating doing. The road ahead was daunting, and the prospect of walking it alone terrifying. The day I found myself seriously considering suicide was the day I knew I needed help. So I called my sister, and my sister said, "I'm here for you."
And I called my mom, and my mom said, "I'm proud of your courage, my daughter." I talked to my wife Danyelle, and she said, "My love for you is bigger than this. I'll be right by your side through whatever it brings and beyond." And eventually, I talked to my Dad (well, actually, I wasn't that brave; I wrote him a letter), and when he got it, the Command Sergeant Major called me and said, "I love you as much today as the day you were born." Each of them made a decision to stand with me, to walk with me, to hold me (and each other) up. Together, we made the hard journey, and the life we share today is better than any of us ever could have imagined.
This moment, this very day, is the moment of decision for us. The choices you and I make right here, tonight, will determine the way of life for our LGBT service members and their families for years to come. For some, it will make the difference between life and death. Tonight, let's recommit ourselves to them and to each other.
Together, let's pledge ourselves anew to building a military that lives up to the great promise it protects one that can lead this great nation to do the same.
Thank you for being here tonight, and for all you do for OutServe-SLDN and for the United States of America.
OutServe-SLDN is the association of actively serving LGBT military personnel with more than fifty chapters and 6000 members around the world It works to support a professional network of LGBT military personnel and create an environment of respect in the military with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity. It is a non-partisan, non-profit, legal services and policy organization dedicated to bringing about full LGBT equality to America's military and ending all forms of discrimination and harassment of military personnel on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. OS-SLDN provides free and direct legal assistance to service members and veterans affected by the repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law and the prior regulatory ban on open service, as well as those currently serving who may experience harassment or discrimination. For more information, visit www.outserve-sldn.org .