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OutServe onward: LGBT military group gains ground
by Alex Lubischer

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Lt. Jamar Green weathered the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Now, in the wake of its repeal, the recruiter for young officer programs for Navy Recruiting District Chicago serves openly.

"If I feel that revealing a certain trait of mine is going to positively affect the recruiting experience, then I will use everything in my power to convince people that the Navy is the right choice," said Green. "If I'm speaking to a crowd and there may be some gay or lesbian people in the audience, then I might mention something about Don't Ask Don't Tell's repeal."

Outside of his recruiting duties, Green is the Illinois chapter leader for OutServe, the association of actively-serving LGBT military personnel launched in 2010 that was a pivotal contributor to the Pentagon's study to repeal DADT. In addition to its Illinois chapter, OutServe has more than 45 chapters worldwide. The association now boasts a fast-growing membership of 4,500. It is predicted to overtake EAGLE at IBM as the largest LGBT employee resource group in the world.

As OutServe's Illinois chapter leader, Green faces the geographical challenge of organizing for the entire state, although the majority of Navy personnel are concentrated at the Naval Station at Great Lakes, 40 miles north of Chicago. Here, enlistees convene for Recruit Training Command, the Navy's only boot camp.

Green also writes for OutServe Magazine. According to its website, the bimonthly magazine "highlights the contributions that actively serving LGBTs are making to the United States military, discusses and educates readers about DADT repeal policies, and advocates for the continued fight for equality for all Americans."

When reached for an interview, OutServe Vice President of Global Affairs Tom Nibbio noted the magazine's success as indicative of the growing support for LGBT rights. "We've got over 250,00 digital downloads subscribers to OutServe Magazine," said Nibbio. "That's quite a few more than those who are actively serving. So it's not just gays and lesbians [in the military] who are downloading. There are supporters and families, too. So the visibility of this magazine is just tremendous."

Although he has no military background himself, Nibbio worked for years at the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (ILGTA) as the Director of Partnerships and Development. He was recruited by OutServe to conceive of, raise funds and produce events for the association.

"I want to bring OutServe and our members to Chicago someday," said Nibbio, who is working to garner interest from the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau. He stressed that a convention in Chicago would bring an influx of tourism revenue to the city.

Most recently, Nibbio helped organize "OutServe Capital Summit 2012: Our Families Matter," which took place on May 14-15 in Washington D.C.. The first day was dedicated to workshops and presentations that focused on ways to make LGBT military families stronger.

Sue Fulton, a member of OutServe's board of directors, was in attendance. "Monday was a day of ups and downs," said Fulton. "We heard from gay and lesbian spouses and partners who struggle with issues large and small to support their military partners while they serve. But the highlight of my day was the outpouring of support from mainstream military family organizations insisting that gay and lesbian partners ARE part of the military family. Many of us were emotional about being welcomed so warmly by these folks, mostly straight military wives, who seemed to understand our issues better than anyone."

On Tuesday, May 15, the conference shifted gears to focus on legislation and activism. "We teamed up with the Human Rights Campaign and the Service Members Legal Defense Network," said Nibbio. "They went to Capitol Hill and spoke with congressional leaders and senators about the need for equal benefits in the military."

OutServe's next convention will be held this October, when its International Leadership Conference 2012 convenes in Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Service members will be lodging at Shades of Green, an Armed Forces Recreation Center located on the Disney resort. "We will be the first LGBT group of any type to ever hold any group event on a military-owned property," said Nibbio.

Back in Chicago, Lieutenant Green is rallying members of OutServe Illinois' chapter to march in Chicago's Gay Pride Parade on June 24. According to Green, an additional seven or eight OutServe chapters are planning to participate in Gay Prides throughout the United States this year.

"Service members who are actively serving can now participate in Gay Pride, they just can't be in uniform. We (Outserve Illinois) are not going to have a booth but we are registered and we are going march. It's just a matter of how many people I can get," said Green, who added, "We'll be there."

Green is optimistic that the new atmosphere of equality and acceptance in the armed forces is here to stay. "I think inevitably, regardless of what actual laws say, the experience in the Navy has already changed so much and it's going to continue to change. People learn, "Hey, I know someone who's gay it's not that big of deal. He's just like me, or she's just like me, and they deserve the same rights.'"

Outserve existed as an underground network before DADT's repeal, and for all intents and purposes would continue in the event of its reinstatement. At least for now, gay and lesbian members of the armed forces, like Lieutenant Green, can serve their country proudly and openly. OutServe has united their voices and continues to grow daily.

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