LGBTQ military nonprofits OutServe-SLDN and the American Military Partner Association are merging to form the Modern Military Association of America, which will be the nation’s largest organization dedicated to education, advocacy, and support for LGBTQ service members, military spouses, veterans, family members, and allies. They announced the merger Saturday night at the AMPA national gala at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C.
“We’re really excited to bring the two powerhouses together,” OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Andy Blevins, who will be executive director of the new organization, tells The Advocate. All staff members of both groups will stay on, while the two boards of directors will merge. OutServe-SLDN itself grew out of the merger of OutServe and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network in 2012.
Blevins, a cisgender gay man whose partner is transgender, is a Navy veteran who was discharged during “don’t ask, don’t tell.” His experience also includes working for First Lady Michelle Obama, as a law clerk for a firm dealing with military disability matters, and in the child advocacy section of Oregon’s Justice Department.
While fighting Donald Trump’s transgender military ban is the most pressing issue for military activists, there are others the new group must deal with as well. One is assisting veterans who received discharges classified as less than honorable — which includes not just dishonorable discharges but others, such as general or “other than honorable.” They are unable to avail themselves of educational, health care, and other benefits, so helping them pursue discharge upgrades is a priority, Blevins says.
The new group will likewise continue helping military personnel receive legal name changes and fight discrimination and, through the recently launched Rainbow Shield program, offer service providers cultural competency training so they can better assist LGBTQ military members and veterans. The AMPA military spouse scholarship program will continue too.
MMPA will also keep on pursuing the lawsuit, Karnoski v. Trump, that OutServe-SLDN and Lambda Legal filed on behalf of current and aspiring trans service members to challenge the ban. AMPA was a plaintiff in that and will remain so, Blevins says. The suit is pending in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. “We are very confident that we will ultimately prevail,” he says.
In a press release, others involved with the organization praised the merger. “We’re truly excited that both of these incredible organizations are merging to create a formidable force in the battles ahead,” said AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack. “By combining forces with OutServe-SLDN, we’re embarking on a new journey fighting for open and authentic service and education, advocacy and support for modern military families.”
“For nearly a decade, the American Military Partner Association has been on the front lines fighting for our nation’s modern military spouses and their families,” said AMPA founder and President Emeritus Stephen Peters. “Now, we’re doubling down in our fight for fairness and equality by joining forces with OutServe-SLDN. The Modern Military Association of America will be a powerhouse of community advocates and a united voice for the LGBTQ military and veteran community.”
“For nearly 26 years, OutServe-SLDN has been fighting for the right of LGBTQ military members to serve our nation openly and authentically,” said Josh Fontanez, a U.S. Army officer and cochair of the OutServe-SLDN board of directors. “We’re proud to continue that fight by merging with the American Military Partner Association and working together to defend and support the LGBTQ military and veteran community.”