The transgender head of a national LGBT military group on Saturday detailed a personal story about her own transition as part of her organization’s first-ever “State of the LGBT Military Service” address.
In her speech before an estimated nearly 1,000 attendees at her group’s annual dinner in D.C., Allyson Robinson, executive director of OutServe-SLDN, said she felt “completely alone” when she made her decision to transition, but found comfort from her family.
“The day I found myself seriously considering suicide was the day I knew I needed help,” Robinson said. “So I called my sister, and my sister said, ‘I’m here for you.’ And I called my mom, and my mom said, ‘I’m proud of you courage, my daughter.’ I talked to my wife Danyelle, and she said, ‘My love for you is bigger than this. I’ll be right by your side through whatever it brings and beyond.’”
But Robinson said she “wasn’t that brave” to her tell father, a command sergeant major in the Army, that she would transition in person and instead wrote a letter informing him of her decision. Robinson said her father responded by calling and saying, “I love you as much today as the day you were born.”
Robinson, an Army veteran and West Point graduate, made her decision to transition after she left the military in 1999, but wouldn’t have been allowed to stay in the armed forces had she remained in service. The armed forces prohibits open service for trans servicemembers and expels them under a medical discharge if their gender identity becomes known.
Robinson also made news during the speech when she announced that OutServe-SLDN intended to expand the organization’s membership from 6,000 to 14,000 actively serving members by the end of 2014. Starting the process, Robinson announced new categories of membership for OutServe-SLDN that will include veterans and straight supporters.
“In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll expand further to take advantage of the full strength of America’s diverse military family – and to ensure we’re not leaving anyone behind,” Robinson said.
Additionally, Robinson said the LGBT military movement isn’t simply a struggle to achieve policy struggles — such as battles already won on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and advancing partner benefits for gay troops — but “a campaign to change hearts, minds, and ultimately a nation.”
“It’s a campaign to change hearts, minds, and ultimately a nation,” Robinson said. “It’s not enough to check off the items on our policy agenda one by one and say one day, ‘We’re done.’ We’re working to create a military that truly embodies the values of fairness and equality it protects, one that leads the nation in inclusion rather than lagging behind it.”
Cathy Renna, a lesbian New York-based public affairs specialist, was in attendance at the the dinner and told the Washington Blade she thought Robinson’s speech was “inspiring and educational.”
“The people in that room know that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ being repealed was in many ways the beginning, not an end,” Renna said. “But, in fact, there’s so much more to do, and I think Allyson very, very boldly and smartly outlined what some of things to do are that we need to pull together and continue to make in the military related to LGBT people.”
One outstanding item that Robinson cited in her speech is an end to the Defense of Marriage Act. Even though the Pentagon has started the process for granting certain benefits, major ticket items — health and pension benefits — still aren’t available to gay service members.
Also during the dinner, a tribute was paid to the late lesbian New Hampshire guardsman Charlie Morgan, one of the plaintiff’s in OutServe-SLDN lawsuit against DOMA. She died last month of breast cancer.
Morgan’s partner, Karen Morgan, accepted an award on Charlie Morgan’s behalf. It was also announced that Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie had declared Feb. 15 would be Charlie Morgan Day in that state.