SAN DIEGO – Allyson Robinson, the new OutServe-SLDN executive director and well-known transgender activist, will join other LGBT veterans who will be marching this morning in San Diego’s annual Veterans Day parade.
Robinson has been visiting the West Coast over the past few days in her leadership role with the newly merged organization that serves LGBT troops and veterans. On Friday, she was the guest of honor at a San Diego fundraiser for OutServe-SLDN, and on Tuesday will be in San Francisco for another such event.
Days after the re-election of President Barack Obama, the election of scores of LGBT politicians nationwide and victories for marriage equality in three states, Robinson was still marveling at the ballot box results.
The 2012 election was historic for LGBT rights, Robinson said, predicting that “pundits and prognosticators would be talking about Tuesday’s results for years to come.”
Voters sent a message loud and clear, Robinson said.
“America has no interest in slowing down or stopping equality,” she said emphatically.
Voters were presented two clear choices: The progressive policies of Obama or the regressive ideas of Mitt Romney. In Robinson’s view, voters embraced moving forward as an inclusive and progressive nation, not falling back to a long-ago era that no longer exists.
While the election results were resounding victories for the LGBT community, Robinson cautioned that this is only the beginning of the march toward full equality. Much work lies ahead, she said.
Robinson is hopeful that Obama will continue to work toward equality for all. "Some things can be done with the stroke of a pen and doesn't require a vote by Congress," she said. "I think that President Obama will continue on the path that he has walked in his first term."
The Pentagon seems to be dragging its feet on implementing policy to provide equality to LGBT troops, Robinson said, and surely paid attention to Tuesday's stunning election results. "I think it bodes well for the future," she said.
Why it’s time to repeal DOMA
The successful repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the military’s discriminatory policy that prevented open service, triggered a refocusing of issues by two of the nation’s leading military groups for LGBT service members. OutServe and SLDN this month merged and will work toward new efforts to assure that LGBT service members, who can now serve openly, and their families are treated equally. That’s why the repeal of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is a top priority.
Robinson pointed to her own military service in the Army and her subsequent coming out as a transgender woman as an example of inequality that continues to exist in the military.
The 1994 West Point graduate, who was then identifying as a straight male, fell in love with fellow cadet Danyelle, and they married and would have four children. As a straight couple, they and their family had full military benefits.
“I served almost seven years,” Robinson said, “five of which I was legally married before my transition.”
As an Army officer, Robinson was deployed to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar, and commanded PATRIOT missile units in the Middle East and Europe. Serving through 1999, Robinson rode in helicopters that flew in harm’s way.
“What if something had happened to me? My wife Danyelle never questioned that she would have been contacted by the Army if something bad had happened. She never doubted that if I were hospitalized, that she would have access to me at the hospital. She never doubted that she would not have the full support of the military, including medical benefits for her and our children,” Robinson said.
By contrast, same-sex couples even after the DADT repeal do not get the same treatment as opposite-sex couples. This is a concrete example of what Robinson and OutServe-SLDN are fighting for.
Robinson said many same-sex military families in San Diego have to go to Mexico to find affordable health care, and she finds that to be outrageous for American troops who are putting their lives on the line to serve their country.
As she takes on the herculean task of merging two organizations into one, bringing together 6,000 LGBT families and 60 chapters sprawling around the world, Robinson vows to fight until LGBT service members – and there are an estimated 67,000 LGBT troops – are treated fairly and equality by the Pentagon and military establishment.
The long road to OutServe-SLDN
Like Vice President Joe Biden, Robinson is a native of hardscrabble Scranton, Pa. Robinson has always been an overachiever, and landed a coveted spot at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
After serving overseas, including stints as a senior trainer/evaluator for NATO and an adviser to the armed forces of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar, Robinson left the Army in 1999 to pursue a calling to Christian ministry.
Robinson attended Baylor University and in 2007 earned a master of divinity degree in theology with an emphasis on social justice. The pastor-teacher served in churches in the Portuguese Azores and central Texas.
During this time, Robinson began grappling to come to terms with becoming a transgender woman.
While at Baylor, the famous Baptist university in Waco, Texas, Robinson attended an event by Soulforce Equality Ride, a nonprofit group that sends young LGBT adults on a bus tour to conservative Christian colleges, military academies and secular universities in an attempt to foster debate about LGBT issues. “They visited the Baylor campus and they spoke out to me,” Robinson said.
“I left the ministry because I clearly felt the call to advocacy.”
That led Robinson to advocate for transgender Americans as the first Deputy Director for Employee Programs of the HRC Foundation’s Workplace Project.
“All of these parts of my past all came together in an unexpected, yet wonderfully fulfilling way,” Robinson said.
Robinson’s story of transitioning from a straight man to a transgender woman has a very happy ending, but she is cognizant that many transgender Americans are not so lucky.
She acknowledges that many people don’t know how to address transgender questions with a transgender person. “People are afraid of asking the wrong thing,” she said. “People are afraid they might hurt someone’s feelings.”
But Robinson encourages curious Americans to ask away, but be respectful when doing so.
She considers herself lucky in that she had a supportive wife and family, and that she faced little discrimination along the way. “There has been some harassment and intimidation,” she said, “but nothing that women don’t experience around the world.”
She counts herself as “among the privileged people” as a result of her diverse career path. “When you come from privilege, the only thing to do, morally, is to give back.” This is a theme she echoes several times during the course of the interview.
Robinson praises her wife, Danyelle, for her undying support. “We will have been together 19 years next year,” Robinson said. “We are much happier today than ever before.”
She said Danyelle encouraged her to be true to herself, and that helped with the transitioning process.
“Danyelle likes to joke that we are lesbian by marriage,” Robinson said, smiling slightly.
But going from being viewed as an opposite-sex couple to being perceived as being a same-sex couple proved to be eye-opening, because the treatment by people was not the same. “It’s been an education process for the both of us,” Robinson said.
Once, Robinson said, she pulled away when Danyelle tried to hold her hand in public, fearing what people would think. “I was conscious of the possible consequences, from stares to angry words to the potential of violence,” Robinson said.
Still, they have learned to cope and to accept their changed relationship. She is most proud of her three boys and girl, ages 13, 11, 9 and 8, who have become “little activists” for transgender rights.
Robinson gets misty-eyed talking about Danyelle.
“We were classmates together at West Point. We were on active duty together. She has been there for me always. She has been my most vocal advocate, my strongest defender, my best friend, my lover, my life.”
Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.
OutServe-SLDN and Freedom to Marry mark Veterans Day with new video on DOMA's harm to LGBT troops and veterans