Five months after the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Servicemembers Legal Defense Network executive director Aubrey Sarvis will leave the organization after four years in what the group called a “planned departure.”
“It’s not easy to leave SLDN,” Sarvis told The Advocate on Wednesday. “But there comes a time to move on, and this feels right. I think the next phase of the battle can be reinvigorated with new blood, new energy. For me, it was certainly a historic time to be here. I was honored to have been here during the fight.”
The organization announced that in order to fill the top position, it has retained the services of executive search firm McCormack and Associates of Palm Springs Calif. McCormack was the firm that led the search for a new executive at MassEquality in 2010.
SLDN was unable to disclose to the Blade the financial details of the search or what the organization plans to pay the new executive director, but tax returns from 2009 indicate that Sarvis was compensated $153,623 in salary and benefits for the year prior to the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”
According to Zeke Stokes, SLDN’s communications director, the organization retains 12 employees, and at the moment there are “no other departures to report.”
Sarvis and SLDN played a crucial role in the successful 2010 effort to repeal the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” law that prevented open service by gay and lesbian service members in the military.
“The search for a new Executive Director comes at a critical moment in the fight for full LGBT equality in our armed forces,” SLDN Board Co-Chair April Heinze, who chairs the national search committee, said in a statement on Wednesday. “Repeal of the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law, alone, is not enough. The fight for full equality marches forward – especially for those legally married gay and lesbian service members who today do not receive the same recognition, support or benefits for their families as their straight, married peers. The board and staff at SLDN will not rest until we overcome these and the remaining inequalities for LGBT service members.”
“Aubrey Sarvis was a hero in the DADT movement,” Josh Seefried, co-director of the active duty group OutServe, told the Blade Wednesday. “He dedicated his life to improving the lives of thousands of gay service members. He led SLDN at the most difficult time and I am sad to see him go. We are excited to work with his replacement.”
“Aubrey has been one of the prime movers of our community when it comes to LGBT military rights,” Monica Helms, president of Transgender American Veterans Association, told the Blade. “He will be a very hard person to replace. And hopefully the next person will be just as enthusiastic about helping trans military people to serve openly.”
The SLDN statement references the ongoing push for equal benefits for same-sex couples in the military.
“The new Executive Director will manage SLDN’s ongoing legal and legislative efforts to change the definition of ‘spouse’ in three titles of U.S. Code that pertain to benefits for married LGB service members and veterans and dismantle the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA),” the statement reads. “He or she will oversee SLDN’s pro bono legal services for LGBT service members, work with the Department of Defense and congressional leaders for effective implementation of open service, and deal with any harassment or discrimination related to sexual orientation or gender identity that may occur.”
“In general, we all work together all the groups,” said Denny Meyer, media and public affairs director for Transgender American Veterans Association. “There’s little tensions and competitions, because every group has their own focus. But as of late SLDN has picked up on the trans issue, and has been helping trans veterans with issues, which wasn’t the main focus of the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’ because the original 1993 law didn’t include trans people.”
“Its still sort of taboo on having trans service members serve openly,” Meyer continued. “Politics is politics unfortunately. In other countries England Canada and even Israel, transgender people were included [when they made their inclusive policies], but America is what it is, you know, we’re more backward. It just wasn’t on the table. The movement had to work with what they had. because in this country, if advocates said ‘its all or nothing,’ it would still be nothing.”
The open SLDN executive director position is currently posted at http://www.sldn.org/pages/careers.