June 24, 2013 | by Chris Johnson
Robinson breaks silence amid OutServe-SLDN turmoil
Allyson Robinson, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, OutServe, gay news, Washington Blade

Allyson Robinson says she’ll stay on for the time being, but leave OutServe-SLDN at later time. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Following a tumultuous two days of reports that the board of the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN voted to oust its leader, leaders of the organization finally broke their silence on Monday to confirm she would depart.

Allyson Robinson, the group’s executive director, posted a statement on a website for OutServe Magazine saying she’ll stay on with the group for the near term, but has decided on her “own accord” at a later time to step down.

“[T]o honor those who’ve shared those values with me, it is my intent to continue to lead OutServe-SLDN in the near term as we approach an historic moment for our community and our country,” Robinson said. “After that, at a date to be determined, I have decided of my own accord to step down, and will work with our members to ensure an orderly transition to the next phase of this organization’s life.”

The Bilerico Project and Buzzfeed reported over the weekend that the board held a meeting Saturday night in which it decided to ask Robinson to resign. In addition, those outlets reported three staff members — Director of External Engagement Zeke Stokes, Director of Chapter and Member Services Gary Espinas, and David McKean, Legal and Public Policy Director — resigned following the decision.

Leaders of the organization remained silent for two days on what transpired as leaked emails were published indicating the board vote to remove Robinson was rushed through. Names of staffers who resigned and others were removed from the staff list on the group’s web site on Saturday.

Robinson, who has led OutServe-SLDN for nine months, was the only openly transgender leader of a national LGBT rights organization.

Also on Monday, the organization’s board posted a statement in which members apologized for the way the events had played out, but affirmed that Robinson would leave the organization.

Josh Seefried, co-chair of the board, said in the statement “there’s no excuse for the series of events that transpired this past weekend.”

“On behalf of the Board of Directors, I sincerely apologize for this as well as the impact it’s had on our staff’s and members’ trust and confidence in the organization Allyson Robinson has led OutServe-SLDN as one of the most transformational leaders of this movement, and there is not a member serving on this board who does not respect and admire her work for this organization and the LGBT movement,” Seefried said.

The statement says OutServe-SLDN is transitioning from primarily a legal services organization into a membership services and advocacy organization that would increase the role of the organization’s 6,500 members.

According to the board statement, this reporting ensued after an email on Saturday containing the contents of confidential internal board discussions “was erroneously distributed” to an email list with recipients outside of board members. The statement says the “drafted item” was only part of a series of discussions among board members.

April Heinze, another board co-chair, praised Robinson in the statement for the work she’s done for the organization, saying she put LGBT service members and their families first.

“As many in our community know, the LGBT movement is evolving quickly, and so will its institutions,” Heinze said. “Many people thought that after the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ all the military LGBT organizations would or should disappear. As Allyson Robinson and her staff have so powerfully and effectively reminded the nation, the mission for full equality in our Armed Forces is incomplete.”

Other board members had different reactions amid reporting over the past two days. One board member, Brenda “Sue” Fulton, publicly affirmed on her Facebook page that she had resigned in protest. Another board member, Marine Corps Capt. Matthew Phelps, told the Washington Blade he had initially wanted to resign, but agreed to stay on indefinitely because the board “value[s] my participation in handling the current situation.”

Despite the reporting, the board vote to oust her was never confirmed by the organization or its members on the record, nor was any reason stated for why the board would want to oust Robinson. Yet another report in AMERICAblog said no decision was made to remove her, but the process to ask her to resign was underway.

According to anonymous sources in Bilerico and Buzzfeed, reasons given to oust her ranged from a lack of ability to fundraise after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in addition to jealousy and anti-transgender bias. No source said anything on the record.

The board statement says OS-SLDN faces “real and significant” financial obstacles and has forced the board to consider “cutting costs and staffing reductions.” Still, Robinson late last year received $50,000 from the Arcus Foundation as the first grant under its “New Leadership” program.

OutServe-SLDN faced the prospect of having to restructure following repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which was a major goal of its parent organizations: OutServe and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. Since her start at the organization, Robinson had emphasized partner benefits for gay troops, membership expansion and non-discrimination in the military.

At the group’s annual D.C. in march, Robinson, an Army veteran, spoke personally about coming to terms with being transgender, which is prohibited by regulation for service members.

“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 at the time.

UPDATE: In a statement to the Blade, Fulton responds to the statements provided by Robinson and the board, praising the departing executive director while criticizing board members:

Kudos to Allyson Robinson for taking the high road in this situation.
But I can’t make sense of the Board’s statement. Are they trying to imply that they did NOT demand Allyson’s resignation?? To even suggest that would be an insult to my honor, and an offense to the honor and integrity of others who resigned, especially talented, dedicated, and principled staff members Zeke Stokes, Gary Espinas, and David McKean.

In a larger sense, this statement, appearing after days of silence, is an insult to the members. Several remaining Board members are people I respect; unfortunately their good sense did not win the day. This appears to be a craven, self-serving attempt by the Board leadership to keep their jobs. Given the catastrophic loss of donors who’ve fled, and members who are fleeing, I am astonished that there is no accountability from the Board leadership. In any self-respecting organization, the Co-Chairs would resign from the Board.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

2 Comments
  • peter rosenstein

    Clearly the BOD of OutServe/SLDN has handled this situation poorly and the organization will suffer because of it. The longer they stonewall what actually happened the worse it will be.

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