Military summit featuring gay troops starts Friday
Published: October 13, 2011
Updated Friday, 8:35 a.m.
WASHINGTON — Several hundred gay and straight servicemembers converged on Las Vegas on Friday for the OutServe Armed Forces Leadership Summit, the first major conference on gay rights and culture in the military since the repeal of the controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” law last month.
Organizers from OutServe, a major lobbying force for closeted gay troops before the repeal, said the goal of the conference, held at the New York, New York hotel and casino, is to provide opportunities for networking and professional development and to “create an environment of respect in the military with regards to sexual orientation and gender identity … sharing best practices and formulating strategies that help build a stronger military community.”
A full session of workshops is scheduled for Saturday, tackling family and faith issues. Sessions also will address benefits for active-duty troops, their partners and families, as well as post-military career opportunities.
OutServe announced Thursday that Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Douglas Wilson, the senior-most openly gay official in the Pentagon, would provide the keynote speech at a dinner on Saturday. The event will also recognize Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt. Their son, Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt, was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in February. The Wilfahrts say the other soldiers in his unit all knew that Andrew — who came out to his parents at age 16 — was gay and they had no problems with it.
OutServe co-director Air Force 1st Lt. Josh Seefried said the goal is to help the military become stronger through diverse viewpoints, and to head off any potential culture conflicts early.
“To have a conference like this,” said author Nathaniel Frank, “where people can step out of the shadows and come together to discuss the things that are important to being the best soldiers they can be is historic and is essential and is one of the reasons so many people have been advocating for an end to a policy that requires you to hide.”
Stars and Stripes will be covering the event – keep an eye on this blog for updates throughout the weekend.