OUT in the Military: LGBTQA Civic Engagement Educational Panel

OUT in the Military: LGBTQA Civic Engagement Educational Panel

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Jenna Dell
April 24, 2014

Last week, TWC’s LGBTQA and Veterans civic engagement projects organized a panel discussion called "OUT in the Military." This was the first time that these two civic engagement projects co-sponsored an education session together. The event was attended by both spring 2014 interns and TWC staff members.


While panelists represent a range of different backgrounds and experiences, they are united in their desire to promote equality for gay and lesbian active duty military members. Much of their work supports veterans who were discharged due to "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" (DADT) and earlier forms of discrimination. To this end, all three panelists are involved with OutServe-SLDN (Servicemembers Legal Defense Network) which empowers, supports, and defends the Department of Defense and military service LGBT community, LGBT veterans, and their families, while working to strengthen the military's culture of inclusion.


Panelists included:


  1. Lieutenant Colonel Todd Burton
  2. Lieutenant Colonel Dr. John Gillespie
  3. Aubrey Sarvisexecutive director of the Service Members Legal Defense Network

Lieutenant Colonel Todd Burton joined the Army National Guard in 1985 and has been serving as an officer since 1997. He has served on the staffs of the Department of the Army, the Army National Guard, the National Guard Bureau, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 and is currently assigned as a Senior Policy Analyst in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. Burton was a founding OutServe chapter leader for the Washington, D.C. area.

Lieutenant Colonel Dr. John Gillespie was commissioned as 1st Lieutenant in the Air National Guard in 1994 and transferred to the Air Force Reserve in 2011. His military awards include the Air Force Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal and Air Force Humanitarian Medal. He serves as the Board co-chair of OutServe-SLDN.

Aubrey Sarvis is a lawyer with over thirty years’ experience in public and corporate affairs in Washington, D.C. He serves as executive director of the Service members Legal Defense Network.


The panelists provided a historical overview of DADT including:


  • Legal and logistical repeal
  • Challenges regarding veteran benefits
  • Further policy and law implementation

The panelists also discussed current challenges faced by out service employees such as workplace discrimination, millions of dollars in revoked benefits, and negotiations with foreign governments so that out service members can serve overseas and allow their families to travel with them.


During the panel, Todd called himself an “accidental activist” and shared that he came out in the Huffington Post and on CBS the day that DADT was repealed. Gillespie told an emotional story of a service member who waited almost 60 years to retain his honor after he received an “other than honorable” discharge from the Marines for his sexual orientation. The full story can be read here.


Kelsey Diemand, a 2014 spring intern from University of New Hampshire reflected on the panel, sharing that "it was a great session hosted by both LGBTQA and Veterans Civic Engagement projects. As a student in the Veterans project, I thought it was very informative in teaching us about the struggles LGBTQ military members face and the organizations and people involved in making strides for LGBTQ active-duty members and Veterans. I learned that the military is a ‘mirror for society, not of society,’ thus the acceptance of LBGTQ military members is essential for society to continue moving forward.”


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