A new organization opposed to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” officially launched on Monday that aims to give new voice to LGBT service members currently serving in the U.S. military.
The group, OutServe, formerly known as Citizens for Repeal, is crediting itself with being the first-ever organization for active duty gay, lesbian and bisexual troops that is speaking openly with Pentagon officials as well as public audiences.
OutServe’s co-director, a military officer who’s referring to himself publicly by the alias of J.D. Smith to avoid being outed under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” said his group is focused on giving support to active duty gay and lesbian service members through social networking.
“For example, we had someone moved from Virginia to Colorado recently,” Smith said. “Through the network, we were able to get them in touch with new people and new friends in Colorado.”
Smith said plans for the future include helping LGBT troops find counseling services and becoming ”a professional group of LGBT military members.”
As part of its launch, the group issued a statement on Monday outlining its mission and the importance of hearing from openly LGBT service members in the U.S. military.
“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,” the statement begins. “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.”
The group started in October 2009 as an underground network with a Facebook page. According to a statement from the organization, OutServe now has about 450 members, including around two dozen service members deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Smith said efforts started with collecting stories from LGBT active duty service members and the group’s activities evolved. Starting in March, OutServe embarked on a tour of schools throughout the country to speak out against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
A speech at the State University of New York at Oswego, according to Smith, prompted such fervor against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on campus that Army Secretary John McHugh had to cancel a subsequent appearance at the college out of fear of protests.
“We weren’t the ones doing the protest, but the students ended up doing it there — they were fired up about ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” Smith said.
As the Pentagon working group develops its plan for implementing repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Smith said the organizations plans to make sure LGBT service members have a voice.
“One of the things that we see a lot coming from the Pentagon is they’re saying ‘gay advocates’ are saying this, or certain things are happening, and like to use the word ‘advocates,’” Smith said. “As we created a group that is just active duty, it’s no longer advocates are saying this it’s now their own people.”
Smith said OutServe had been communicating with the Pentagon working group in limited fashion by giving them information “that is beneficial to help them with repeal.”
Such information, Smith said, includes anecdotes on LGBT troops serving with other service members and feedback on the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” survey.