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Advocacy groups for gay, lesbian service members to join forces

Advocacy groups for gay, lesbian service members to join forces

WASHINGTON — Two gay rights advocacy groups that fought to bring about an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the U.S. military’s former ban on openly gay service members, announced Monday plans to merge into a single organization.

The two groups — Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) and OutServe — said they would combine to form a single organization by October 2012, and work to gain greater access to military benefits for gay and lesbian service members, and influence the White House and Congress to bring about an end to the Defense of Marriage, which prohibits gay and lesbian service members from receiving full military benefits.

“This comes down to mission first, just as it always is in the military,” said Josh Seefried, co-founder and co-director of OutServe. “It is a great day for both organizations and for the LGBT service members and veterans around the world, who need a strong, unified voice speaking for them at the White House, on Capitol Hill, at the Pentagon, and among the American people.”

SLDN is a non-partisan, non-profit, legal services and policy organization which has focused on bringing about full LGBT equality to America’s military. The group and it’s executive director, Army veteran Aubrey Sarvis, emerged as one of the leading voices influencing lawmakers, the Pentagon and the Obama administration to bring an end to “Don’t Ask, Don;t Tell.”

OutServe rose to prominence after it began as an underground network of LGBT service members connected via Facebook that now boasts more than 5,500 members worldwide.

During the fight to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” OutServe facilitated telling the stories of active duty service members in the media and at the Pentagon, becoming a key link for the Comprehensive Review Working Group that allowed the voices of those who were serving in silence to be heard.

Just weeks following last year’s repeal of DADT repeal, OutServe hosted the first-ever conference of active duty LGBT service members.

“SLDN has enjoyed a close working relationship with OutServe and its leaders from the beginning,” said SLDN Board of Directors Co-Chair Mike Magee.

“Indeed, their voices, though anonymous at the time, were an integral part of the fight to repeal the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law. Since repeal, we’ve worked even more closely together and in doing so, it has become more and more clear that our shared mission – representing actively serving military and veterans, as well as fighting to achieve full LGBT equality in the military – is better accomplished by uniting the two organizations and working together as one on behalf of the brave men and women of our armed forces,” said Magee.

Under the terms of the agreement reached on Saturday by the two boards of directors, the transaction will close when specific contingencies are removed, which include outstanding legal, financial, and structural elements.

The close is expected at the next board meetings of the two groups, scheduled to take place October 26-28 in Orlando, Fla.

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