Saying that the Pentagon will have "no choice" but to work with them, a group of active duty gay and lesbian servicemembers, OutServe, is sending a statement to the Pentagon this morning, July 26. The statement is both literal and in action, as the renamed group launches a website and issues a public statement aimed at the Pentagon regarding OutServe's views on the end of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
Asked how OutServe, formerly known as Citizens for Repeal, can effectively communicate with the Pentagon while the DADT policy is still in effect, Ty Walrod, the group's civilian co-director and spokesperson wrote in an email response to Metro Weekly on Sunday afternoon, "The answer is, they have no choice. Never before has this pressure come from within the military.
"As the first organization of actively serving gay and lesbian troops, we know they will follow our website outserve.org, pay attention to our press releases, and observe the working examples we can provide for units where gay and lesbian troops already serve openly in their units," he wrote. "No more can they say 'activists' want this; they now have to deal with actual troops."
Co-Director JD Smith, an officer who goes by his initials to protect his privacy, said in a statement, "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."
Metro Weekly spoke with Walrod on Sunday afternoon in advance of the group's Monday announcement.
"I'm the only civilian member [of the group]. They obviously can't speak out without outing themselves publicly," Walrod said. "I saw the need for the active duty to have a voice."
About the group, which his primarily organized via Facebook and claims to have 450 active duty servicemembers as members, Walrod said, "It's all private. We absolutely have a critical mass. This underground does exist. And this group, our intention really is to provide a voice for them until they can speak for themselves."
In the statement, which can be found below the jump, OutServe and other related groups' representatives "articulate what we believe to be reasonable expectations about our ongoing professionalism in defense of our nation" following the end of DADT, including that "[w]e are service members first" and "we seek to be accepted as equals while conducting ourselves with the same professionalism regarding our personal lives."
[UPDATE AT 1:31 A.M.: Alex Nicholson, the executive director of Servicemembers United, quickly took aim at OutServe's purpose and the claim in its initial news release that it is "the first-ever organization of actively serving gay troops" and Smith's statement that active duty troops have been "almost completely absent from the conversation." Nicholson wrote in a statement to Metro Weekly:
"It simply isn't true to suggest that active duty troops haven't been a part of the debate and deliberation on this issue. In fact, I would suggest that active duty voices have led the discussion, given that Dan Choi and Victor Fehrenbach have dominated most media coverage of this issue and have represented our community in a dedicated and persistent fashion. To suggest otherwise is an insult to these guys who have put a lot on the line.
"Also, it flies in the face of all the work that SLDN and Servicemembers United have done to privately facilitate the Working Group's extensive access to the gay military community. Wild and inaccurate claims from new people who are temporarily interested in this issue at the height of its publicity are the last thing our community needs at the last hour after years and years of hard work to get us where we are today."
UPDATE AT 11:05 A.M: OutServe's Walrod responded to Nicholson's comments in a statement provided to Metro Weekly:
"All of us at OutServe have nothing but respect and gratitude for the tremendous work of the other organizations and individuals playing a role in ending DADT. Our collaboration with and sign-on from Knights Out and SAGALA of our statement to the Pentagon is just one example of that. What is new about OutServe is that we are no longer underground, we are out of the shadows and proudly taking a critical role to see a smooth transition to the end of DADT.
"We see a light at the end of the tunnel for those serving in silence and fear and we are bringing our strong and unique voices to the debate in a more visible way – one that we think will only strengthen the work of all of us on the side of equality for all those serving our nation in the military."
On the "interesting timing" front, Servicemembers United also announced the launch of its own new initiative -- a 501(c)(4) lobbying arm named Servicemembers United Action Fund. The 501(c)(4) status will allow the organization to lobby Congress without limits placed on 501(c)(3) organizations and can engage directly in political campaign activities (with some limitations). From the group's release:
"We are very excited and proud to be launching the first 501c4 affiliate organization dedicated to the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' issue. This represents another big step forward for the gay military and veteran community and another weapon in our community's arsenal as we move into a critical period for the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' issue."
Another day, two other LGBT orgs.]
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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 ³don¹t ask, don¹t tell² 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 Œ89, 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.