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Following last week’s big win on marriage in the Supreme Court, gays and lesbians across the country can be excused for indulging in a victory lap. Even a week later, still watching the dominoes fall — marriages resuming in California, federal benefits quickly being made available, deportations dramatically halted — it feels momentous.
That’s because it is. While visionaries have worked to get us to this point for decades now, it’s still a bit awe inspiring to see it happen: a huge victory on marriage equality, the issue many of us expected to come last on the fabled gay agenda, arriving amid ever-growing public support. Which raises plenty of questions about what has been achieved and what remains.
Victory comes with its own set of challenges. The toner was still warm on the hard copies of the United States v. Windsor decision that the Supreme Court released when the question started being asked: Now that gays can marry, what’s next for gay rights?
Obviously, it’s a little soon to ask what’s next because the marriage victory, while momentous, is still incomplete: Just ask those of us living in Virginia, where not only can we not marry but we have attorney general and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli engaging in such mischief as trying to keep unconstitutional sodomy laws on the books.
There’s plenty left to do on marriage. There’s plenty left to do on employment protections, the long-standing LGBT issue that everyone thought would be our first big victory, but which has found itself an afterthought for the past few years. And although the repeal of ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was the first major victory we celebrated, there’s still work to be done there — transgender servicemembers still have no protections or right to serve.
That’s why the flip side to last week’s celebrations was the utter implosion of OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (OS-SLDN). With open military service the law of the land for gay, lesbian and bisexual people in the armed forces, the organization appeared ready to take the lead on transgender service and provide assistance to members as the new culture takes hold. Instead, an apparent board coup against Executive Director Allyson Robinson led to most of the staff and many of the board resigning in protest of the board’s sudden and unexpected action. Given that OS-SLDN is now shutting down its office and local chapters are threatening to withdraw, it’s apparent that the board’s attempt to remove Robinson was no way to run a railroading.
I consider it a warning for what lies ahead for LGBT organizations as more goals are achieved and the question of ”What’s next?” becomes more pressing. With every political victory, we come closer to the time when our primary focus isn’t on Capitol Hill or statehouses, but instead on the broader culture, working to make sure every LGBT person of all ages, races and ethnicities has a safe and respected place in their communities.
It’s a different game and one that’s already been engaged by many organizations who work with less limelight than our national advocacy groups. OS-SLDN would have been the first of our ”victory” organizations to chart that course; now, barring some strategic maneuvering and necessary resignations, it appears to be at an unfortunate end.
As a cautionary tale, it does nothing to undermine the sheer joy of victory on both marriage and military, and one hopes that someone picks up the thread and keeps moving forward for transgender servicemembers. But regardless, we should remember that it’s deceptively easy to lose for winning.