Attorney Jeff Cleghorn to Leave Servicemembers Legal Defense Network

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Atlanta attorney Jeffery M. Cleghorn left the U.S. Army in 1996 when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was in its infant stages, then spent a decade and a half working to repeal the law that prohibited gay and lesbian soldiers from openly serving in the military. According to the law firm Kitchens New Cleghorn LLC, Cleghorn ended a six-year tenure on the organization’s board of directors in March.

Attorney Jeff Cleghorn to leave SLDN

As part of the continuum of LGBT soldiers who have served their country and those who have fought against the unjust ban on gay soldiers, it was a tremendous honor to be a part of the organization that helped bring about its demise.

Atlanta Attorney Jeff Cleghorn has ended his six-year tenure on the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. A vocal advocate in the effort to rescind the ban against gays in the military, Cleghorn stated “It’s exciting to have been a part of this wonderful organization during this dynamic time in U.S. history. The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was one of the proudest moments of my life, and OutServe-SLDN was as responsible for that as any organization or individual, and I’ll miss being on the front lines with them, so to speak.”

Cleghorn joined the organization now known as OutServe-SLDN in 1997 while enrolled in the law school at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. In 1999, Cleghorn became an OutServe-SLDN staff attorney who represented LGBT soldiers and veterans, as well as LGBT personnel at the U.S. Defense Department. He also spent time lobbying members of Congress and senior officials at the Pentagon, where Cleghorn had worked as an intelligence officer on the staff of the Joint Chiefs.

Cleghorn will continue to support OutServe-SLDN as he focuses on his private practice in Atlanta, where he specializes in family law. As a divorce lawyer for heterosexual couples, Cleghorn’s case load ranges from high-intensity custody disputes and high-value property divisions, to amicably mediated settlements.

“Although the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is a remarkable achievement for LGBT soldiers, and the overall LGBT movement, it is by no means time to declare ‘mission accomplished,’” Cleghorn said. “OutServe-SLDN will continue to work to make sure that LGBT soldiers – and their partners and families – receive the same benefits and respect that other U.S. soldiers receive from the government and general population.”

Cleghorn became a powerful voice in the public debate against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – defending LGBT rights on C-SPAN, CNN, MSNBC and NPR, as well as more conservative venues such Fox News’s “The O’Reilly Factor,” the Army Times, Marine Corps Times, Air Force Times and Navy Times.

When President Barack Obama ended the longstanding ban on openly LGBT servicemembers, Cleghorn was among the LGBT military activists invited to the White House to witness the signing.
“Even during the most difficult times of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, I was always hopeful that one day we would prevail,” said Cleghorn, who used to represent soldiers who fought being discharged because they were gay or lesbian. “But even in best-case scenarios, I couldn’t have seen the military’s ban on gay soldiers crumbling as quickly as it did. I mean, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was less than two decades old, but we are talking about hundreds of years of discrimination against LGBT soldiers, all the way back to the American Revolution.

“And after years of struggling against that policy, after many lives had been ruined by the government that they took an oath to protect, the ‘end’ seemed to come along like a tidal wave,” Cleghorn said. “As part of the continuum of LGBT soldiers who have served their country and those who have fought against the unjust ban on gay soldiers, it was a tremendous honor to be a part of the organization that helped bring about its demise.”

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, or SLDN, was established in 1993 – the same year that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” became U.S. law – to offer legal support to those affected by the discriminatory policy and to lobby Congress to repeal the ban. In June 2012, SLDN joined with OutServe – an employee resource group for active LGBT soldiers that was formed in 2010 – to form OutServe-SLDN.

“Attending the presidential signing ceremony for the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Repeal Act of 2010 was one of the great moments of my life,” Cleghorn said. “It was the culmination of years of effort, and to be in the audience with so many other people who had worked so hard, and for so long, to achieve this historic and significant legislative victory for gay rights was quite an honor.”

“It truly felt good for a closeted gay kid from Griffin, Georgia, to be sitting in front of the president of the United States hearing that being gay is okay, and being gay in the military is OK,” added Cleghorn, who in 2010 was selected as one of the grand marshals for the Atlanta Gay Pride Parade. In May 2011, Cleghorn received the Dan Bradley Humanitarian Award at the Human Rights Campaign’s Atlanta Dinner.

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