Working for Equality
The 9th Annual LGBT Community GALA event featured a keynote address by Allyson Robinson.
By Laura Kneski
TAMPA, Fla. (May 1, 2013) – Times are changing, but there is much harder work ahead.
That was the over-arching message of the keynote address delivered by Allyson Robinson at the 9th Annual LGBT Community GALA Event hosted by the University of South Florida Alumni Association.
The celebration night, held April 18 at the Alumni Center, featured four scholarship recipients and P.R.I.D.E. award winners, along with the address by Robinson, executive director of OutServe-SLDN (Servicemembers Legal Defense Network), which represents more than 67,000 current LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) serving military personnel, countless veterans and their families.
She is also the first transgender person to lead a major national, non-trans specific LGBT organization.
Robinson was invited to the GALA in order to speak about the repeal of the U.S. military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, in which openly gay and lesbian persons were barred from military service.
The fight to get DADT repealed began as soon as it was implemented in 1993. SLDN (prior to its conjunction with OutServe) arose just weeks after, working for almost two decades on the issue. A huge supporter to the effort was the Human Rights Campaign, where at the time Robinson served as deputy director of employee programs.
Robinson had special interest in repealing DADT.
Robinson is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy West Point and was a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army, commanding patriot missile defense units in Europe and the Middle East.
The process toward repeal was intricate, and sacrifices had to be made. Robinson knew that non-discrimination protection for gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people in the armed forces needed to be given up for the moment in order to get DADT repealed.
Even with the repeal of the policy, equality is still “paradise on paper,” she said.
Transgender equality issues still remain within the military system, and while sexual orientation is no longer a suitable cause for discrimination, about half of gay, lesbian or bisexual soldiers and marines are still unwilling to come out to their commanders, leading officers and fellow service members, Robinson said.
According to Robinson, two things always happen when LGBT-identifying service members speak to her. The first thing that they do is apologize for hiding their sexuality, and the second provides explanation for the first; they usually have an upcoming promotion or a big assignment, and they feel as though coming out would risk their reputation.
The repeal of DADT did not abolish prejudice, she said, and that is where the upcoming hard work lies.
However, Robinson is not giving up so easily. During her first summer of military indoctrination at West Point, she was on the verge of quitting as they hiked through the mountains. Instead, though, she told herself to just take one more step. She lives by that motto to this day.
“I don’t have to accomplish all of the goals right now,” she said, “I just have to take one step.”
The smallest of actions can be paired with large-scale work in Washington. For the people who either do not understand the LGBT community or its cause, perhaps a personal relationship just needs to be established. “Meet my family, meet my kids…don’t just invite them to events, invite them to be a part of your life,” Robinson said.
As Robinson continues to work with national organizations to further LGBT equality, the Alumni Association wanted to recognize those who are working toward it closer to home. Four people (student, staff and faculty) were selected for the Pride Award, which acknowledges those who have made a significant contribution to and have demonstrated a commitment to the LGBT community, regardless of sexual orientation.
In addition, four students were selected for the USF Alumni Association LGBT Scholarship, which is based off of LGBT community contribution, unmet financial need, and regardless of sexual orientation. A two-time past winner of the scholarship is William Warmke, who will be USF’s first openly-gay student body president. This year’s winners were Lindsay Betros, Mary Whitlock, Alyssa King, and Kaitlin Winters.
“It’s nice to be recognized for what you do and what you contribute to the community, but it also just gives you motivation to keep doing it and really see your difference and make change,” Winters said.
The GALA was originally started as an annual celebration by a tight-knit group of people from USF’s Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, including Mark Hafen and Karen Berkman. However, as it expanded, it is a larger way to celebrate “how similar we all are as opposed to different,” Berkman said.
Robinson made sure to emphasize the goal of many LGBT service members which, she said, is the same as that of many non-LGBT service members.
“For a lot of people, getting to serve like that, it’s not just something folks do to pay for college. It’s not just something people do because they like guns – although many of us did and do – but it’s something people do because they feel a calling to do it. They feel a calling to make that kind of personal sacrifice for others.”