New head of gay rights advocacy group sees more work to be done
WASHINGTON -- The military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” law ended 13 months ago, but Allyson Robinson still sees plenty of challenges to “full equality” in the armed forces.
“There is a tremendous amount of inequality still,” said Robinson, a 1994 West Point graduate and longtime rights advocate. “We have (the Defense of Marriage Act). We have families of military gays and lesbians not able to access basic support and benefits. The reason we’re still fighting on these issues, even after repeal, is because we have not yet achieved our mission.”
On Thursday, Robinson was named the new executive director of OutServe-SLDN, the newly combined organization of two of the key lobbying forces on the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal. Officials from OutServe, the largest association of active-duty gay troops, and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which has provided free legal services to gay troops since 1993, called Robinson the perfect choice to lead the organization into the next phase of the military equality fight.
Robinson, who commanded Patriot missile units in Germany and Saudi Arabia during the 1990s, served five years in the Army and lived for 30 years as a man before transitioning to a transgender woman. She also worked as a Christian minister, and admits that her personal life has confused and alienated some colleagues.
While gay and lesbian troops can now serve openly in the military without fear of dismissal, transgender individuals -- troops with “gender identity disorder,” under Defense Department regulations -- are still banned.
Robinson said her work at OutServe-SLDN will include efforts to overturn that regulation. “It’s going to be a fight,” she acknowledged.
But Robinson said the more pressing issue immediately is the lack of resources to families of gay troops.
Earlier this month, officials from the Military Partners and Family Coalition reported that most members they surveyed still faced significant barriers getting military housing, health care and support programs through their gay partner. Nearly half said coming out would put them or their family at risk of some type of negative reaction from military peers, even after the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal.
SLDN officials have lobbied the Defense Department for more than a year to lessen restrictions on gay partners’ access to military bases, exchanges and housing. Robinson said the new group will redouble those efforts in coming months.
Military officials have been reluctant to relax those rules, pointing to the federal Defense of Marriage Act that prohibits government agencies from recognizing same-sex marriages.
“DOMA’s days are clearly numbered,” Robinson said. “But before then, there are benefits that could be granted to the families of gays and lesbians, because they’re sacrifices are no less than any others.”
Group officials also remain concerned with recent efforts to scale back the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal, including a proposed ban on same-sex weddings at military bases supported by Republican lawmakers earlier this year.
Robinson said that the new organization will also still provide legal assistance to troops who believe they were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. That includes services for gay veterans, some of whom were unfairly dismissed or abused decades ago.