Phil Reese

Is OutServe creating a grassroots organizing model we can copy?

Filed By Phil Reese | August 30, 2010 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: grassroots, military, organizing, OutServe, Servicemembers United, SLDN

This morning, I received a breaking press release from JD Smith, the co-director of OutServeOutserve-Logo3.png, the network for LGBT active duty military service members. Last week, their new website went live, and JD has been really eager to get the word out. OutServe is one of several amazing organizations pushing hard against the forces that want to preserve employment discrimination in the military--most notably my heroes at Servicemembers United and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. OutServe's constituency is very specific, however--active duty service members and only active duty service members.

Today, OutServe announced, however, they are building a network of base and regional chapters that will spring up--one by one--to help local LGBT military personnel connect to the larger national network and help create more visibility and a stronger presence in the military, while still maintaining anonymity while "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is still enforced.

For two years, the movement has been talking about developing a nation-wide network of grassroots in-district teams in every Congressional district in the nation. The problem is that most of the discussion implies a top-down activation of such a model, and grass roots is simply never ever ever top-down. Besides being a much smaller model, something that can be overcome; the difference between this plans and the wheel spinning of the larger movement is that OutServe has leveraged and is leveraging online social networks to develop this structure. It's not top-down or bottom-up--its simultaneous. What can we learn from this?

Full release after the jump.

OutServe is rolling out on a very small, limited scale, what our movement needs to mirror on a larger, national scale. What can we learn from this?

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - August 30,2010 -- OutServe, an organization of gay and lesbian military personnel, announced Monday the creation of several base and regional chapters around the globe. At least ten will be organized by OutServe this week on military bases and regions where the organization has significant presence, including Afghanistan and Iraq. For safety reasons the exact location of the chapters will not be known, except for inside the exclusive network, but 5 chapters will be located overseas and 5 chapters will be located stateside. Although the demand to establish additional chapters is high, OutServe will start with ten this week and expand in the near future. For information on the group go to

The goal of each base and regional chapter will be to provide information, resources and social support to actively serving military personnel. "Don't Ask Don't Tell" places an immense burden upon individuals who think they are alone at their base and these networks will seek to fix that. Each chapter will be charged with growing and expanding their networks and offering support in their specific areas. OutServe Headquarters will be tasked with supporting those networks and serving as the voice of the national organization.

"We need to start to empower local military networks to expand and unite them under one banner," said JD Smith, OutServe's co-director and active duty officer in the U.S. Armed Forces. He continued, "Informal networks of gay and lesbian military members have existed well before World War I and it's time to take those networks and start connecting them and giving them more resources."

Under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" it can be difficult for LGBT military personnel to network with one another. "Our goal is to create an OutServe-based information superhighway where we can help LGBT military personnel connect with one another both locally and globally more efficiently," stated Ty Walrod, OutServe's co-director. "We want military personnel to know commands that are friendly, commanders which should be addressed with caution, and where to turn for both friendship and support."

"Our Commander-in-Chief directed us that this law is changing soon and we need to prepare ourselves to offer one other support in this time of transition," stated JD Smith. "Regardless when DADT is repealed, our goal is to continue to lay the foundation for a strong network of support." As the policy changes to allow open service in the future, these chapters will serve as hubs of social and professional support for OutServe's members in the future.

I have it on very good authority that we'll be hearing a lot more from OutServe in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

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Cathy Renna Cathy Renna | August 30, 2010 4:04 PM

thanks for posting this Phil - this is a terrific organization that, along with SLDN, servicemembers united and others will ensure not only that dadt is dismantled but that once that happens, those already in service will be part of the process

we have had the pleasure and honor of doing some work with them and you can bet you will be hearing more....i would encourage folks to google search and look at some of the interviews on pam's house blend and other sites with active duty soldiers risking their lives

look for a big piece in newsweek next week.....

CommanderRJ74 | August 30, 2010 5:10 PM

You people don't seem to know the first thing about the U.S. Military, especially that first commenter. The Pentagon does NOT negotiate with service members, especially junior ones, on policy. The military is supposed to be non-political. If these juniors want to participate in the policy making process, they can get out and do so as civilians properly.otherwise they risk violating long standing military principles that are there for good solid reasons. And that is not issue-specific.

Except for that whole survey thing....

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | August 30, 2010 7:46 PM

Its great to see them using social networking sites as a way of organizing active duty gay soldiers. Its important that gay soldiers get support and that they are able to work to repeal DADT.

Go grassroots! That's what we need to do. An organization with no roots can't ultimately accomplish much.

Only time will tell, but do we really need another org working on DADT right now as it winds it's way through the repeal process? It's like forming a group to repeal Prop 8 in California today. What good does it really do that couldn't be achieved by working inside the current organizational structure to benefit and support the already ongoing work? Especially at such a late hour...

Actually, their mission is much larger than just DADT--at its core this is a social network for connecting LGBT servicemembers. In the context of DADT this network--which already exists--can be leveraged to assist in the fight already very much well fought by SLDN and SU. In the end, however, repealing DADT is not their core mission--it is connecting LGBT active duty servicemembers together.

In fact, our Congressional district grassroots network of activists nation-wide will be like this. Not focused on any specific legislation at its core, but able to be leveraged for or against any legislation that needs support in the districts. That's why this model is important to watch. Their structure seems very egalitarian, their roll-out seems to be driven by the local chapters themselves. It seems like this is something important to watch.

Why shouldn't the minority that is affected (the actively serving military) be allowed to form their own organization to provide support to each other? and even to help the final push to repeal DADT? I agree there are great advocacy organizations like SLDN and SU that are fighting the good fight to repeal DADT.

Would such an organization be questioned if it were for something for like homeless LGBT youth? Why are more organizations coming about a bad thing? especially if our priority is support of LGBT in the military?

Like Phil stated though, our main goal is to connect to each other and provide support. To become a social and professional support system for after the repeal of DADT.

Thank you Phil for the kind words.