I was at the OutServe-SLDN annual dinner Saturday night here in DC, and it was an almost surreal evening.
OutServe is a relatively new organization of active-duty gay and trans servicemembers, and SLDN (Servicemembers Legal Defense Network) is the premiere, and oldest, “gays in the military” group fighting for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell all these years, and providing legal counsel to servicemembers who were caught in that odious policy.
Recently, OutServe and SLDN merged.
Much like with our recent and sudden unexpected success on the marriage battle, there was something almost unbelievable to the evening. A bit of a “this can’t be happening” feeling struck a number of us, looking around and seeing out and awarded members of all the branches of the military, many holding-hands with their same-sex dates in the open, with no fear of official repercussions.
For me there were two aspects of the evening that were most striking, both related to West Point. One had to do with OutServe-SLDN’s new executive director, who went to West Point, and the other a twenty-year-old current West Point cadet.
West Point grad and OutServe-SLDN E.D. Allyson Robinson
Allyson Robinson is OutServe-SLDN’s new executive director. Allyson is a West Point graduate and former Army officer. She’s also transgender. I’d written about Allyson Robinson before. She is one hell of an impressive person. And her keynote address to those in attendance that evening was simply amazing. Seemingly not reading from notes (she had a teleprompter she didn’t appear to be using at all), Allyson told the tale of her coming out trans to her family, including her military dad, and how they accepted her.
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.”
It’s rare to see a leader of a national organization that’s as well-spoken as Allyson. Whether on TV, or before the dinner attendees, she commands a presence and is damn impressive.
What a lot of people may not realize is that the repeal of DADT did not help transgender people. They’re banned from military service under different rules than those that banned gay servicemembers. Allyson will addressing “trans in the military” among other long-term issues, like benefits for gay spouses, during her tenure.
West Point Cadet Michael Marino
The other West Point moment of the evening for me was meeting West Point Cadet Michael Marino. Marino walked by our dinner table wearing what looked like a Civil War uniform, and since we couldn’t figure out what it was, I motioned him over and asked, only to find out that it’s the West Point formal dress uniform, that hasn’t changed much since 1816.
The striking thing about talking to Marino is not simply how “out” gay college students are today, but the fact that a gay West Point cadet is attending an out-gay event in full dress uniform. And nobody cares.
I talked to Marino for a while about West Point and what it’s like for his generation to be out, and Marino mentioned something I found both funny and telling. Marino told me he’s out at school, but not really “that out,” compared to some of his classmates. This, from a guy attending a national gay event in full-dress West Point uniform, and who has no qualms about printing his photograph and name in a national publication. That’s what qualifies as “not that out” nowadays. Woosh.
People like Marino are the reason I got involved in gay politics and activism all the way back in 1993. My first involvement was working on the-gays-in-the-military battle for Senator Kennedy, after-hours, often until midnight each night, after working a full day at my regular job as a Senate legislative aide to a Republican Senator. I’ve always had a special affinity for the military, which is odd since my family doesn’t have a particularly military background (not in this country, at least). Nonetheless, of all the indignities we faced as gay people in this country, being treated as second-class citizens by our armed forces for some reason always struck me as a particularly ignoble slap in the face.
And now we have out and proud West Point cadets looking forward to a career in military intelligence, when many in my generation and before, either lost such jobs or never even bothered trying, because they were gay.
I remember how it was always my dream to join the US Foreign Service. The day I finally got in, and passed my written and oral exams, I turned the State Department, my life dream, down because it was 1989 and I was gay. I feared that there was no way I could pass the security clearance, let alone hold a job as a US diplomat, if they found out I was gay. To this day I regret that choice.
The fact that kids like Michael Marino no longer have to even worry about such things – that gay West Point cadets now take dates to their winter formal, and no one blinks an eye – and that it happened in our lifetime – is pretty damn cool.