‘OutServe’ hosts first ever leadership summit for openly gay service members


LAS VEGAS — OutServe, nation’s only professional association for actively serving gay an lesbian military personnel, is holding its first annual “OutServe Armed Forces Leadership Summit” in Las Vegas this weekend, aimed at enhancing “military readiness through encouraging an environment of respect with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity

According to OutServe, the conference will also offer the LGBT military community “a means of building professional networks, sharing best practices and formulating strategies that help build a stronger military community.”

The sold-out conference kicked off Thursday at the New York, New York Hotel and Casino, and is being attended by 215 attendees from all branches of the U.S. military along with veterans and civilian supporters. A spokesperson for the organization said that the registration was capped to make the event manageable.

“Part of the goal of the conference is to recognize the past, and also as an organization plan for the future,” said Ty Walrod, a civilian who co-founded OutServe, and served as its spokesman when his friend and co-founder, Air Force 1st Lt. Josh Seefried, used an alias to avoid being discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Nathaniel Frank, a historian whose 2009 book, “Unfriendly Fire,” argued that banning gays from serving freely hurt U.S. military readiness, said that gay men and lesbians have formed secret social networks going as far back as World War I. Aided by technology, research and the public’s increasing indifference to sexual orientation, OutServe is the first such group to be able to take its activities from anonymous to above ground, he said.

“‘Don’t ask, Don’t Tell’ obviously required people who in many cases needed support, the support of each other and mutual assistance, to remain in the shadows even to one another,” Frank said. “So to have a conference like this, 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.”

Associated Press, via The New York Times

In addition to several workshops, one of which was entitled “Scriptures and Homosexuality,” there were private meetings scheduled for the heads of the organization’s 48 chapters.

“There are issues of leadership and faith and family that are specific to our community and that by addressing, our folks can be better soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and better leaders,” said Sue Fulton, an OutServe founding board member, and the first openly gay West Point graduate who was appointed to the Board of Visitors of the U.S. Military Academy by President Barack Obama in July.

OutServe also announced Thursday that Douglas Wilson, the Defense Department‘s openly gay Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, will be the keynote speaker at the gathering’s Saturday night dinner.

Also slated to appear Saturday evening will be Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt of Rosemont, Minn., whose son Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt, lost his life to an IED in Kandahar, Afghanistan in February of this year. Wilfahrt was openly gay, and serving in an Army unit whose other members were aware that he was gay.

The Wilfahrts will be honored for paying tribute to their son’s memory by their campaign of speaking out against the ballot referendum to place an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment on the 2012 Minnesota ballot.

The conference sponsors included the Central Intelligence Agency, Log Cabin Republicans, Stonewall Democrats of Nevada, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, and LGBT advocacy groups Human Rights Campaign, and the Courage Campaign.

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