Chapter of the Year: OSHi

by HM2(SW) Jeffry Priela
OutServe Hawaii Chapter Leader
Naval Health Clinic Hawaii, Makalapa Clinic

I really wasn’t expecting to be some sort of an activist when I enlisted in the military under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) in 2005, yet somehow fate proved me wrong. This year has been most productive for the fledging OutServe Hawaii (OSHi) chapter. When I was offered the chance to be a leader, I knew that 2011 was the year that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was finally going to be buried. However, like all victories, I knew the repeal of DADT would have to be held and maintained. The only way to do that was to help with the general effort of legitimizing OutServe as a strong and professional force within the military. To do this, we had to look at the very basics of military campaigns.

Concentrate Your Forces

The first step is to concentrate one’s forces. Being a small, concentrated island with all Services in such close proximity, we needed to expand beyond the online social network. We started doing basic events such as group hikes, beach days, dinners, movies, and other social events. This had a two-fold effect; it built morale and it established face-to-face contact between members. It also afforded me the chance to gauge the spirit of the group. Some were interested in social events, while others actually wanted to do community service. In both cases, it offered a chance for members to get together.

Build a credible reputation

The first real visibility was purely by chance. Hawaii Supreme Court Justice Sabrina McKenna, one of five openly gay Supreme Court Justices in the nation, was speaking at a local bar called Tapa’s II. She spoke about the importance of LGBT rights and how much we, as a community, can achieve a great deal if only we fought for it. OutServe Hawaii Co-lead Jeffrey Pound and I listened to the justice speak and introduced ourselves. Justice McKenna congratulated and praised OutServe for its efforts to maintain a sense of professionalism in those dark times.

Justice McKenna also had a surprise guest who was also one of her biggest supporters: Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie. It was during this fateful meeting that we also made contact with one of our biggest civilian supporters, eXpression! Magazine. Jade Le, the editor-in-chief, was very interested in OutServe, and we promised to give her the cover story when the repeal was final. This was a promise kept. On the 1st of October, OutServe Hawaii had its members in uniform as featured on the cover of eXpression! Magazine.

Engage the community and share the credit

OutServe Hawaii continued legitimizing itself as an organization as the repeal neared. We realized that we needed to expand beyond the social scene and start engaging the community, and that came in the form of a highway. We found out about Andrew Wilfahrt, a gay soldier killed in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast in Afghanistan, through a report on CNN. After some investigating, we were surprised to find out that Andrew had been stationed in Schofield Barracks in the middle of Oahu. We decided to do something, and after negotiating the terms of the ‘Adopt-a-Highway’ program with the Hawaiian Department of Transportation, we set to work. Out of respect, we notified Andrew’s unit and his parents, Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt, of our intentions.

We celebrated OutServe’s 1st anniversary with the initial cleanup of a beautiful stretch of Kamehameha Highway. One of our members, Rich Armstrong, who had once lived above Hula’s Bar and Lei stand, helped us coordinate a party to celebrate Andrew’s life, the anniversary of OutServe, and the family that had formed around our chapter. That celebration was our very first public event, successfully introducing OSHi to the rest of Hawaii’s LGBT community.


Build Alliances and continue to build on success

Coordinating through Facebook, we signed a partnership with Equality Hawaii, a portal to the state’s entire LGBT community. It was from Equality Hawaii that our exposure really grew. We linked up with the Gay Straight Alliance for local high schools, the Life Foundation (AIDS Research), and the Hawaii Pride Foundation.

On September 17th, three days before repeal, OSHi participated in its first-ever Pride March, with 5 brave members. We also had an information booth which introduced OutServe to the greater LGBT community. Hawaii was extremely surprised to find an active, yet covert group of active duty troops forming a basic support group.

When repeal finally happened on September 20th, the closet doors finally blasted open. We made front page news at the Honolulu Star Advertiser, and were featured in an interview on KHNL Hawaii News Now. In each media report, we mentioned the Cpl Andrew Wilfahrt Memorial Highway, and in each report, we stressed the importance of “mission first” and that it was “business as usual.” These simple actions resulted in the commands of our members being thoroughly impressed by the level of professionalism displayed by their service members who chose to speak with the media.

My proudest moment wasn’t being on the news, or the warm reception of OSHi at Pride. It was during the first OutServe Armed Forces Leadership Summit in Las Vegas, were I met Lori and Jeff Wilfahrt. That was a humbling and awe inspiring experience, and words simply do not do it justice. The memorial highway was our biggest project, and finally meeting Andrew’s parents struck a chord deep in my soul. During the formal dinner, I presented to them a signed and framed picture of OSHi members and the sign of our adopted road, the Cpl Andrew Wilfahrt Highway.

The most heartfelt moment of the entire Summit was receiving a personal KIA band with Andrew’s name, unit and the date he died. In that briefest of moments, when I hugged Jeff and Lori, I felt their love—I felt a small piece of what Andrew must have felt for them. Andrew was very fortunate to have parents like Jeff and Lori. Truly humble, honorable people, who continue tirelessly fighting for LGBT rights, even after Andrew’s passing. Their courage and conviction inspired me to continue on our campaign and to keep moving forward in pursuit of total equality and victory.

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