Active duty and reserve gay and lesbian troops have been critical to the nation's defense, but almost completely absent from the conversation. We’re fixing that.
Santa Barbara, CA (Vocus) July 25, 2010
SANTA BARBARA, CA – July 26, 2010 -- Gay and lesbian service members are organizing themselves in order to help the Pentagon prepare for life after “don’t ask, don’t tell.” This week, they are publicly launching OutServe (formerly known as Citizens for Repeal), the first-ever organization of actively serving gay troops and they have started speaking openly with Pentagon officials as well as public audiences. For information about the group go to http://www.outserve.org
According to the group’s Co-Director, JD Smith, “Active duty and reserve gay and lesbian troops have been critical to the nation's defense, but almost completely absent from the conversation. We’re fixing that.” Smith, who goes by his initials in the interest of privacy and safety, is an officer. Smith says that OutServe has expanded by word of mouth and Facebook since its formation as an underground network in October 2009 and now consists of approximately 450 gay and lesbian service members, including approximately two dozen deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Growth has been swift, and an average of 15 new members are joining each week. The group verifies each new applicant against a database of U.S. troops to ensure that only active duty individuals join.
In response to concerns that after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” gay troops will parade their sexual orientation or engage in other inappropriate conduct, the group is organizing its public launch this week around the release of a statement outlining its expectation of a smooth transition. “Following the lifting of the ban, it will be business as usual,” according to the group’s Overseas Director, an enlisted service member deployed with an artillery unit in Baghdad. “We defend the nation now and we will keep defending it after repeal. We are issuing the statement to explain that to people.”
Several organizations representing gay and lesbian graduates and affiliates of the Service Academies are planning to co-sign the statement along with OutServe, which is the principal author.
Although group members remain cautious about revealing their identities while “don’t ask, don’t tell” is still law, they are beginning to speak more openly in anticipation of the end of the ban. They have started to deliver public lectures on university campuses, and are engaged in ongoing dialogue with military researchers. “We have made two points to Pentagon officials,” says Ty Walrod, the group’s Co-Director and civilian spokesperson. “First, we trust the Commander in Chief to deliver on his pledge to fully implement non-discrimination. Second, while we believe that the Pentagon’s research efforts are sincere and we are able and willing to help in any way, we have concerns about the confidentiality of its survey and the authenticity of some of the respondents.” Walrod, the only non-military member of the group, is based in San Francisco.
In Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands and other foreign countries where militaries have lifted gay bans, organizations representing gay and lesbian troops serve as a bridge between service members and defense ministries. OutServe plans to play a similar role after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Smith says that the organization already has provided information, resources and social support to gay troops, and will continue to do so following repeal. In addition, the group will continue to offer advice to Pentagon officials about issues relevant to the community.
The Baghdad-based Overseas Director added that, "We are here to fight and win wars, serve with integrity and honesty and protect the people fighting next to us. We are proud to sacrifice for the nation we love, but we have a lot of educational work to do.”
We are active duty and veteran gay, lesbian, and bisexual soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, and members of the Coast Guard who are currently serving and who have served – some in silence, some with the open support of our comrades – in defense of our nation. We include service men and women who graduated at the top of our classes at the service academies and enlisted at recruitment centers around the country. Some of our members have lost their lives in service to their country.
There have been many predictions regarding how gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members will behave after “don’t ask, don’t tell” is repealed and fully non-discriminatory standards of behavior are implemented. These predictions represent, in some cases, fear mongering and lack of understanding. We submit the following to clarify what service members should expect from their gay, lesbian, and bisexual brothers and sisters in arms, and to articulate what we believe to be reasonable expectations about our ongoing professionalism in defense of our nation:
(1) We are service members first. Our overriding operational imperative is to do everything in our power to sustain team cohesion, to maintain trust and loyalty between Commanders and those they command, and to provide positive examples of ethical behavior to all of our fellow service members.
(2) We believe that sexual orientation is merely one facet of individual identity. As a consequence, we seek to be accepted as equals while conducting ourselves with the same professionalism regarding our personal lives. Those actions, which serve to create an uncomfortable or hostile work environment, are as wrong when coming from a gay individual as from a heterosexual.
(3) Social conventions regarding public displays of mutual affection should apply equally to couples of the same and opposite sexes. Military couples recognize that open displays of affection can be viewed as inappropriate in any context and that service men and women have a responsibility to represent themselves in discreet ways.
(4) Breaches of professional decorum can and should be handled at the Command level, as individuals can be counseled about appropriate behaviors in the Service environment. As service members grow in their role as leaders, Command should afford them the opportunity to grow and learn about what it means to be a military professional.
(5) As with any repeated unprofessional behavior, if inappropriate conduct – by heterosexuals or gays and lesbians – continues, other options can and should be considered, particularly in instances in which Commanders view the behavior as a consistent breach of commonly accepted norms of professionalism.
(6) These values of professionalism should extend to the full range of military functions, including official and semi-official functions, overseas deployments, training environments, and any context in which service members and their partners might interact with one another in the spirit of collaboration, camaraderie, service, and mutual support.
Contrary to those who would spread fear about the consequences of change, we value unit cohesion and aim to do everything in our power to support it. Upon certification and repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the subsequent implementation of fully non-discriminatory standards of behavior and enforcement, all service members can expect that their gay, lesbian and bisexual colleagues will continue to conduct themselves in the same exemplary fashion that has governed our conduct thus far.
JD Smith, Co-Director, OutServe*
Ty Walrod, Co-Director and civilian spokesperson, OutServe*
Jeff Petrie, USNA ‘89, Chair, Service Academy Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association**
Becky Kanis, West Point '91, Chair, Knights Out***
*OutServe is a network or approximately 450 active-duty soldiers, sailors, Marines, , airmen, and members of the Coast Guard. JD Smith is a pseudonym.
**SAGALA is a professional network of 435 gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual cadets, midshipmen and alumni who attended one of the five federal Service Academies.
*** Knights Out is an organization of West Point alumni, staff and faculty who are united in supporting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender soldiers to openly serve their country. The group has 203 members and graduate supporters and 462 allies.