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Military gay group growing, aiming for more rights

- The Washington Times - Monday, February 20, 2012

An association of gays in the military has more than doubled its membership since last year, is setting up more on-base chapters, and plans to hold its next national conference at a Defense Department resort at Walt Disney World.

The expansion of the group OutServe in the five months since the repeal of the Pentagon's ban on open gays shows how a steady stream of service members is coming out of the closet and becoming better organized to achieve demands for more benefits.

Air Force 1st Lt. Josh Seefried, OutServe's co-director, said its current 4,900 members are more than double the number on Sept. 20, when the prohibition ended. There are now 42 local chapters at bases around the world.

"We're about to become the largest [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender employee resource groups] in the world," Lt. Seefried told The Washington Times. "We're about to pass the major corporations such as IBM and Microsoft as the largest gay organization for employees."

Local chapters are becoming more active.

The OutServe group at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, a nation at war, recently produced a video starring three enlisted personnel who give advice under the theme of "It Gets Better," a slogan of the gay-rights movement.

"Don't allow anyone to tell you you can't do anything," says Staff Sgt. Steven Procter.

"Life does get better, but it won't get better until you start to accept yourself for who you are," says Staff Sgt. Shelise Harmon.

The video concludes with scenes of military personnel across the base holding up makeshift "It Gets Better" signs.

OutServe attracted more than 200 people to its first national conference in Las Vegas last fall, when Douglas B. Wilson, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, spoke to the group.

It expects to double that number Oct. 25-28, when the second conference opens at Shades of Green, a 586-room resort in Orlando, Fla., owned by the Defense Department.

Lt. Seefried said OutServe sent solicitations to about 40 cities, including Orlando, whose tourism department contacted Shades of Green, which then sought the booking.

"One thing we like about the military property is it gives a very low hotel rate for your younger troops who attend," he said. "You can't beat the hotel rates there, and that's a big driver."

Shades of Green is one of three Armed Forces Recreation Centers in the U.S.; others are in Hawaii and Virginia Beach.

"This resort is designed to provide R&R for our nation's brave servicemembers, their families and certain other eligible persons," the website states.

"Imagine a peaceful wooded setting surrounding 586 oversized guest rooms, cascading waterfalls, lush tropical gardens, spectacular views from private patios and balconies amid stunning sunrises. With diverse dining options, championship golf, plenty of kids' activities and a premier location on Walt Disney World Resort, Shades of Green has all you are looking for in a totally relaxing vacation destination."

The name reflects the camouflage battle uniforms of four military branches.

Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness and worked to keep the ban on gays in the military, said OutServe is showing itself to be divisive.

"OutServe is a gay activist group using provocative tactics to advance their agenda in the military, and to establish themselves as a special-interest group pushing self-serving demands," Mrs. Donnelly said. "Special-interest advocacy groups, which are inherently divisive, are not permitted for any other cohort in the military."

Gay-rights groups have listed a number of demands since the end of "don't ask, don't tell," including allowing cross-dressers and transsexuals to serve openly, and providing benefits for the spouses of gays.

The Pentagon said it cannot provide such benefits because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the partnership of one man and one woman.

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