(ORLANDO, FL) In a meeting held today during the 2012 International Leadership Conference, the boards of directors of OutServe and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) voted to take the final steps to combine the two organizations - including to combine the two boards - and elected co-chairs to lead the board of directors of OutServe-SLDN. Retired Navy Captain April Heinze, who previously served as co-chair of the SLDN board of directors will take the helm alongside Josh Seefried, co-founder and previously co-director of OutServe.
"We are enthusiastic about the combination of these two vibrant and effective organizations. Our mission will be to provide the best representation, advocacy, and services for LGBT service members, veterans, and their families and continue the momentum we began toward reaching full LGBT equality in the military with the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' last year. We know that was just the beginning and we are prepared to fight this fight all the way to the end," said Heinze.
"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. 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. Each organization brings its own strengths to the fight for full LGBT military equality, and we are stronger together," said Josh Seefried, co-founder and co-director of OutServe. At age 26, Seefried becomes the youngest co-chair of a major national LGBT organization.
SLDN was founded in 1993 following the passage of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in order to provide free, confidential, and direct legal services to LGBT service members and veterans affected by the law and by the previous ban on open gay and lesbian service. Since then, the organization has assisted more than 12,000 individuals and became a key player in the fight to repeal the DADT law.
OutServe rose to prominence after it began as an underground network of LGBT service members connected via Facebook that now boasts more than 6,000 members worldwide. During the fight to repeal DADT, the group facilitated telling the stories of active duty service members in the media and at the Pentagon, becoming a key link for the Comprehensive Review Working Group that allowed the voices of those who were serving in silence to be heard. Just a few weeks after DADT repeal, OutServe hosted the first-ever conference of active duty LGBT service members and has remained a vital and growing organization since.
As a single organization moving forward, OutServe-SLDN will intensify its efforts to bring about full equality through a continued focus on securing equal recognition, support, and benefits for all military families; correcting so called "homosexual" discharge records to reflect the honorable service of all those discharged for their sexual orientation during the DADT era and before; highlighting the stories and faces of service members, veterans, and families harmed by discriminatory laws; building additional membership and engagement; and ensuring that all qualified LGBT Americans who wish to serve their country in uniform are able to do so free of discrimination and harassment.
On Thursday, the organization announced the selection of its new Executive Director, Allyson Robinson, a West Point graduate, a former Army officer and former minister.
"I am honored to lead the new OutServe-SLDN into this next phase of advocacy and action on behalf of our brave LGBT service members, veterans, and their families. Until they are guaranteed equal opportunity, recognition, support, and benefits, our mission is incomplete. We cannot and will not leave them behind," said Robinson, who departed her position at Human Rights Campaign (HRC) to accept the position.
For additional details on Robinson's selection, click here.
ABOUT OUTSERVE-SLDN: 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 .