National and state LGBT nonprofit and advocacy organizations would be wise to look to OutServe-SLDN, the association of actively serving LGBT military personnel, veterans, and their families, to see the shape of things to come. In an instant, the organization went from directing one of the movement's largest public policy victories, guided by a very clear and relevant mission statement, to asking "now what?" in order to keep from becoming a victim of its own success.
Through either legislation, the workings of the judiciary system, or the mere passage of time as older, unsupportive generations die off, the landscape for LGBT equality continues to shift. With each state that recognizes same-sex marriage, another nail is hammered into the proverbial coffin of organizations whose mission focuses on same-sex marriage. The same potential fate that OutServe-SLDN faced when "don't ask, don't tell" was repealed awaits other similarly situated advocacy organizations.
Obviously, there will continue to be important work to do long after same-sex marriage is the law of the land. Even so, if history is any indicator, organizations that have made legal relationship recognition their reason for existing will witness decreases in supporters and donations. As LGBT people and our allies perceive that these organizations are becoming functionally obsolete, they will become less mobilized for action, and donations will drop, which will likely result in a consolidation of LGBT organizations.
The LGBT military community represented by OutServe-SLDN, not ones to rest on their laurels or accept the perception of obsolescence when there is still work to be done, developed a unique approach to addressing these issues. On a recent cool spring day in Washington, D.C., OutServe-SLDN held a "hackathon" to address some of the important questions they face. The concept of a hackathon originated with computer software developers who found that giving themselves a discrete space of time to solve particularly knotty programming challenges could be an effective way of moving the best ideas to action quickly. OutServe-SLDN expanded the definition of "hackathon" to include addressing issues of meaning, value proposition, and the best ways to incorporate technology into their mission: supporting the LGBT military community and building a culture of inclusion in the Department of Defense. In particular, the group endeavored to see how they could better serve their 6,500 members and more effectively manage the 50 to 60 Facebook groups and other social media channels that they currently use to provide better services to those members.
As a result of their hackathon, OutServe-SLDN hit upon some creative new approaches to the significant objectives that remain to be accomplished to create true LGBT equality in our military. It was a truly inspiring moment. Formerly closeted service members and experts in military law and policy huddled around a conference table with developers, communications experts, and other allies to grapple with big existential questions that organizations face and their intersections with technology that can improve value propositions and enhance the mission. The LGBT Technology Partnership team was proud and happy to be able to participate and provide our own input.
What made this event truly unique was that for the small price of a burrito, a couple of nacho chips and some refreshments, OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson engaged in a level of transparency rarely seen in Washington by opening the doors to the organization she leads to whomever cared enough about the issues to attend. Allyson invited the entire community to come, contribute, and see where the organization is and where it needs to go -- imperfections and all. Noticeably absent was the typical Washington polish that often comes with inside-the-beltway events. It was raw and true and demonstrated a vulnerability that so few organizations are willing to reveal. There was no conversation about staying on message or hand-wringing over "how do we spin this?" It was mission over message, method over media. And therein lies the real beauty and strength of what was accomplished.
Paradoxically, it is a military organization that opened itself up to the whole community, exposing its challenges to a broad and diverse group of high technology, public relations, and policy professionals to assist in developing the next direction of the organization, ultimately making it stronger.
In laying out its vulnerabilities, what OutServe-SLDN surfaced were a series of learning points, action items, confirmations and value propositions on ways to support current service members, future service members, veterans and civilians. By exposing the challenges, OutServe-SLDN figured out a way to sharpen its tactics, reinvigorate its mission, and provide greater support for its members -- and thus may just have revealed the way forward for the larger LGBT movement as more and more of our legal objectives are achieved. It's a lesson to which many other similar LGBT advocacy organizations may wish to pay heed, lest the death knell tolls and it's too late.
P.S. For some organizations that death knell may come in a couple of weeks, when the Supreme Court issues its rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8. Our advice: Get hacking!