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OutServe Magazine | March 1, 2013

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SLDN, OutServe to Combine Organizations

SLDN, OutServe to Combine Organizations

The boards of directors of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) and OutServe today announced the intent to combine the two organizations into a single organization by October 2012 with a new name and a newly configured board of directors led by a representative from each existing organization. In the intervening period, the boards and staff of both organizations will focus on unifying the two administratively, financially, and organizationally.

“SLDN has enjoyed a close working relationship with OutServe and its leaders from the beginning. Indeed, their voices, though anonymous at the time, were an integral part of the fight to repeal the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law. Since repeal, we’ve worked even more closely together and in doing so, it has become more and more clear that our shared mission – representing actively serving military and veterans, as well as fighting to achieve full LGBT equality in the military – is better accomplished by uniting the two organizations and working together as one on behalf of the brave men and women of our armed forces,” said SLDN Board of Directors Co-Chair Mike Magee.

OutServe rose to prominence after it began as an underground network of LGBT service members connected via Facebook that now boasts more than 5500 members worldwide. During the fight to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), the group facilitated telling the stories of active duty service members in the media and at the Pentagon, becoming a key link for the Comprehensive Review Working Group that allowed the voices of those who were serving in silence to be heard. Just a few weeks after DADT repeal, OutServe hosted the first-ever conference of active duty LGBT service members.

“This comes down to mission first, just as it always is in the military.  Both of these organizations recognize that they are stronger and more effective together. It is a great day for both organizations and for the LGBT service members and veterans around the world, who need a strong, unified voice speaking for them at the White House, on Capitol Hill, at the Pentagon, and among the American people. What began as a simple effort to tell our stories has grown into something we could never have imagined, and today’s announcement that OutServe and SLDN will combine represents the next step in that evolution. Each organization brings its own strengths to the fight for full LGBT military equality, and we are stronger together,” said Josh Seefried, co-founder and co-director of OutServe.

Under the terms of the agreement reached on Saturday by the two boards of directors, the transaction will close when specific contingencies are removed, which include outstanding legal, financial, and structural elements. The close is expected at the next board meetings of the two groups, scheduled to take place Oct. 26-28 in Orlando, Fla.

“We are enthusiastic about the combination of these two vibrant and effective organizations and looking forward to working together to provide the best representation and services for the LGBT service members and veterans, who have made so many sacrifices to serve our great nation,” said SLDN Board of Directors Co-Chair April Heinze.

“The leadership of OutServe and SLDN have come together in an unprecedented way to move the ball forward on the mission of full LGBT military equality, and we couldn’t be more proud of this combined effort to serve the brave LGBT men and women in our armed forces,” said OutServe co-founder and co-director Ty Walrod.

ABOUT SLDN: Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) is a non-partisan, non-profit, legal services and policy organization dedicated to bringing about full LGBT equality to America’s military and ending all forms of discrimination and harassment of military personnel on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. SLDN provides free and direct legal assistance to service members and veterans affected by the repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law and the prior regulatory ban on open service, as well as those currently serving. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members with questions are urged to contact the SLDN hotline to speak with a staff attorney: Call 1-800-538-7418 or 202-328-3244 x100.

ABOUT OUTSERVE: OutServe is the association of actively-serving LGBT military personnel. With more than 5,000 members and 50+ chapters worldwide, it is one of the largest LGBT employee resource groups in the world. OutServe works to support a professional network of LGBT military personnel and create an environment of respect in the military with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Why did the OutServe leadership make this move?

OutServe and SLDN have always worked closely together. OS has grown so fast that our needs have far outstripped our current resources; rather than build a new bureaucracy, we believed it would be more efficient to partner with SLDN, with its established infrastructure, staff, development/fundraising capability, and governance.

OS Leaders have also realized that there is an urgent need for Chapter support and communications for which OS is not currently staffed. The new combined organization will have a new committee on Chapter and Membership Services, which will include a full-time Director on staff, to liaise with the chapters, facilitate their exchange of information with all sections of the new entity and, in general, to respond to their needs and oversee their activities.

2. What does this mean for OutServe members?

OutServe Chapters will now have dedicated staff to respond to their needs. The Chapter and Membership Committee will consult with Chapter Leaders to establish criteria for members and chapters, and provide needed support and guidance. There will be a “home office” to answer questions and improve communications. And the combined resources of the two previous organizations will enable us to do more on a national level.

3. Will actively serving military members be part of the leadership?

Yes. Josh Seefried will be co-chair of the new organization, and we expect actively serving military members to be added to the board for all activities except lobbying and fundraising.

4. Will OutServe members be part of the Chapter and Membership Committee?

Yes, although the details will be worked out over the next couple of months. Marine Capt. Matthew Phelps will be involved in leading the Chapter and Membership Committee, and will be part of the group that determines exactly what that will mean.

5. Was the Actively Serving Leadership Council involved in this decision?

Yes, the ASL was briefed in advance. While technically all decisions are made by the Board, the Board asked for the ASL’s feedback and whether we agreed with the move, which we did.

6. What will happen to the ASL?

The current plan is to merge the ASL with SLDN’s Military Advisory Committee (MAC), a group of veterans like Tom Carpenter and Paula Neira who advise the organization. The new group will obviously have both veterans and actively serving military members.

7. How will this affect the annual OutServe International Leadership Conference?

The October 25-28 Conference in Orlando will go forward just as planned, but will be called the OutServe/SLDN International Leadership Conference. The new Board will have to determine the future of the Conference, but all indications are that this will continue to be an annual event.

8. How will this affect the Chapters and Facebook pages?

Chapters and Facebook pages are the backbone of OutServe, and one of the strengths that makes SLDN eager to partner with us. Group Facebook pages will not change; they will continue as they currently are. The Chapter and Membership Committee will determine, consulting with Chapter Leaders, how the current structure and function of Chapters might be improved.

9. How will the mission of OutServe change?

The mission of the combined entity will be to strengthen the military culture by securing equal opportunity, equal protection and equal benefits, without threat of harassment or discrimination, for LGBT service members and veterans.  Other than the addition of veterans, this is in line with OutServe’s current mission.

10. Will veterans be able to join the new organization?

The Chapter and Membership Committee will address this question. There is strong sentiment in favor of veteran membership at some level, while still keeping our actively serving members at the core of the organization.

11. What will this mean for OutServe Magazine?

The Magazine will continue as OutServe Magazine. The new Editor-in-Chief, David Small, will report to Zeke Stokes, currently the Communications Director of SLDN.

12. What about other members of OutServe leadership?

Josh Seefried will become co-chair of the combined entity. Ty Walrod, Sue Fulton, Jonathan Hopkins, and Katie Miller will join the Board of the combined entity. Tom Nibbio will join the Development Staff of the combined entity.

13. Will all this happen immediately?

No. There are a number of steps that need to be taken, some of them legal details, some of them organizational decisions like the Chapter and Membership Committee. The combination will be finalized at the end of October. We will keep you posted on developments between now and then.