Today marks the official launch of OutServe—an organization of gay and lesbian active-duty service members who say they will work with the Pentagon as it moves toward implementing what they hope will be the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the military’s 17-year-old ban on gays and lesbians serving openly.
The organization started as an underground network on Facebook last October. It now has some 450 members, including nearly two dozen serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
New members are joining each week, says codirector J. D. Smith. But there is a limit to their openness, and the Web site—with its black backdrop—feels profoundly anonymous. The members are afraid of losing their jobs as discharges under DADT continue, despite growing political momentum for a repeal.
Smith, who spoke with NEWSWEEK by phone, won’t reveal where he is serving (other than that he is active duty and on the East Coast). The organization works with its civilian coordinator and codirector Ty Walrod to bring information and statements to the Pentagon while preserving members' anonymity. One such communique is the group’s statement that addresses fears in the military community that, in Smith's words, “we will parade our homosexuality” as soon as DADT is repealed.
“Social conventions regarding public displays of mutual affection should apply equally to couples of the same and opposite sexes," the statement says. "Military couples recognize that open displays of affection can be viewed as inappropriate in any context and that service men and women have a responsibility to represent themselves in discreet ways.”
Smith says that while his organization is providing the Pentagon with information, via its civilian spokesman, “we’re not sure if they’ll make it a two-way street."
With a common misperception that a DADT repeal has already been passed or is guaranteed, some may wonder why gay soldiers are bothering to organize at all. “We’re in a better position than we’ve been in the past,” says Smith. “But we’re not there yet, and repeal is not guaranteed to happen. Discharges are going on right now and will continue."
He adds that many are disappointed there has not been a moratorium on the discharges while repeal is being so publicly considered, and that President Obama has not issued a stop-loss order to prevent discharges, which legal experts say is within his power. “There are a lot of gay and lesbian soldiers who are asking that very question right now.”