In a renewed effort to support LGBT-rights organizations, the Arcus Foundation will announce a $50,000 grant today to the country's largest military LGBT-rights organization in support of its new leader.
OutServe-SLDN's new executive director, Allyson Robinson, is the recipient of the grant, which is the first of a number of "New Leadership" grants Arcus plans to make as part of an initiative going into 2013.
"A movement is only as strong as its leadership," said Arcus Foundation Executive Director Kevin Jennings in an interview with Metro Weekly last week. "One of the things we want to do is really make sure that when somebody is an especially exciting new leader, which we think Allyson is, that we want to immediately step in and support them."
The one-time grant comes after OutServe and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network finalized their merger in October and named Robinson as the newly combined organization's leader. Robinson, who is a West Point graduate and Army veteran, is also the first transgender person to lead a non-trans-specific LGBT organization.
"Allyson is a rock star," said Jennings. "She's exactly the kind of high-quality talent we want to see in leadership roles in the LGBT movement." Jennings added that Arcus has had a longstanding commitment to diversity in the LGBT movement and that Robinson "represents a important step forward in diversifying the leadership of the LGBT movement."
Robinson said the selection as the first leader to be awarded the grant under the new program is a tremendous honor for her and her organization.
"It is an acknowledgment of the organization and an affirmation of the organization's choice to make its inclusive values concrete and real by selecting me not because I'm a trans person, but because I am a person who is very well qualified to do this work who happens to be transgender," Robinson told Metro Weekly. "It's really an amazing gift to us that arrives just at the right time as we're moving forward with all of the practicalities of merging these two very strong, very effective organizations into one organization."
With 6,000 members who represent an estimated 67,000 LGBT servicemembers in the American military, OutServe-SLDN has renewed its effort to secure full equality in the military since hiring Robinson in October.
"This grant represents a real vote of confidence in the strength of this organization moving forward, the need for this organization and our ability to accomplish our mission," said Robinson.
According to Jennings, the fights that remain in securing full benefits for same-sex military couples as well as achieving open service for transgender people played a role in Arcus's decision to award the grant to Robinson and OutServe-SLDN.
"A lot of people think that because we've repealed 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' we’re done. I don't think that's the case," said Jennings. "I think we are at the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end of the work we need to do to make the military, which is the largest employer in America, into a truly fair workplace for LGBT people. We’re not even at the end of the beginning for T people because it's still illegal for them to be in the military."
The Arcus Foundation, which was founded in 2000 by Jon Stryker with a dual and divergent mission – equality for LGBT people and conservation of the world's great apes – announced this fall a new social-justice strategy that focuses on building support and advocacy for LGBT equality among young people and people of color.
According to Jennings, the "New Leadership" grants are part of the first phase of a three-phase effort to be announced in early 2013.
"If you look at who's in the military it is young people and people of color, disproportionately," said Jennings, adding that those two demographics make up the bulk of the constituency served by OutServe-SLDN. "A lot of folks think the battle to make the military a fair and equal place is over," said Jennings. "We think it's just starting."
[Photo: Allyson Robinson (Credit: Todd Franson/Metro Weekly).]