HRC Blog

Reflections on the Second OutServe/SLDN International Leadership Conference

This post comes from Paul Dodd, Chaplain (Colonel), US Army (Ret); and Co-Chair, Forum on the Military Chaplaincy

If OutServe's first International Leadership Conference seemed surreal, following so closely on the heels of repeal, the second conference, held last weekend in Orlando, ushered in a world of new opportunities and challenges.  The venue was serendipitous!  Shades of Green, the Armed Forces magnificent resort and recreation center located on the sprawling grounds of Disney World, created an almost magical air for the event.  OutServe/SLDN's new national leadership wasted no time working their magic.

Army veteran Allyson Robinson, formerly HRC’s Deputy Director for Employee Programs, became the first Executive Director of the newly combined OutServe/SLDN advocacy group.  A 1994 graduate of West Point, a decorated combat veteran of military campaigns in the Middle East, and a minister who holds a Masters Degree in social justice from Baylor University's Truett Theological Seminary, Allyson is uniquely and amply qualified for the job. The bold new vision of OutServe/SLDN is further trumpeted by the fact that Allyson is transgender. As Dana Beyer, of Gender Rights Maryland, wrote in the Huffington Post, wrote that Allyson was the most highly qualified candidate for the job, "and she happens to be trans." Retired Navy Captain April Heinze echoed that sentiment, saying simply that "Allyson Robinson is exactly the right person at the right time to be our leader and voice in Washington in the fight to achieve full LGBT equality in the military."

But, the magic doesn't stop there. HRC's Religion and Faith Program pitched in to provide funding for Air Force Tech Sergeant Erwynn Umali and his new husband, Mr. Will Behrens, to attend as guests of the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy. Last summer, Erwynn and Will became the first couple to be legally married by their chaplain in a military chapel at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.  The couple was showcased at Shades of Green as they led a workshop titled, "So You Want to Get Married in a Military Chapel."  Oddly, the respective Chiefs of Chaplains representing the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, declined without exception or explanation the Forum's invitations to participate in the workshop.  Nevertheless, while the chaplains were a "no show" for the event, Erwynn and Will were cheered on by the hundreds of fellow service members who attended the conference.

A second workshop hosted by the Forum addressed diversity and inclusion in the military chaplaincy.  Three member endorsers of the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces, the nation's oldest and most respected group of denominational endorsers, led the well-attended and high intensity workshop.  Denominational endorsers representing Unitarian Universalist, Alliance of Baptist and Pentecostal Chaplains modeled the best of what diversity and collegiality among chaplains should look like.  These endorsers honor and respect the distinctions of faith groups other than their own, while remaining loyal to their personal beliefs. They are firmly committed to the historic principle that military chaplains exist to secure the free exercise of religion for all of their troops, and share a sworn duty to perform or provide religious ministry for every service member, regardless of sexual orientation.

The Forum on the Military Chaplaincy worked feverishly behind the scenes and under the radar to help win repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."  We are equally committed to provide a strong and compelling voice for America's service members as we work hand in hand with OutServe/SLDN, HRC and other advocacy groups to secure equal rights and benefits for our military families, equity and symmetry in our chaplain corps, and recognition of the dignity and respect so rightly deserved by our brave and patriotic troops.

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