Gay and lesbian military members will hold their second ever conference next fall at a Florida vacation resort operated by the U.S. Army.
In the latest sign that openly gay service members have continued to move into the military mainstream since the December 2010 repeal of the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, the second annual OutServe International Leadership Conference will be held at Shades of Green at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. It is one of five Armed Forces Recreation Center resorts operated by the Army's Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command.
The resorts, which include properties on Waikiki Beach in Hawaii and in the Bavarian Alps, are open to members of all military branches and their families. Rates are often lower than comparable hotels nearby. An Army fact sheet lists standard room rates at Shades of Green at $95 to $131 a night.
The 2012 conference, scheduled for Oct. 25 to 28, expects to draw double the number of attendees than last year's inaugural meeting at the privately owned New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. More than 200 people, including a large number from foreign armed forces that allow gays to serve openly, attended that event featuring panel discussions and a keynote address by Douglas Wilson, assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs and the highest-ranking openly gay official in Pentagon history.
The change of venue from decadent "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" to Disney World -- the site of informal Gay Days for two decades -- is significant because it marks the first time such a high-profile event will be held on military property.
"A year ago we lived in a world where we lived in fear of being fired," said Air Force Lt. Josh Seefried, OutServe's co-director. "We now live in a military that respects who we are and realizes our contributions to the best fighting force in the world. The fact we are hosting this conference on Army property shows how this was truly a non-issue in the military."
Perhaps, but conservatives who protested Gay Days when they drew mainly civilians or closeted service members may not be pleased by the locale. Opponents of lifting DADT fought and lost a battle to bar military chaplains from performing same-sex marriages on military installations.
Seefried said the conference will include a heavy emphasis on family issues and the fight to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act that denies some benefits to gay married service members. In addition, there will be session on developing training guides for commanders in dealing with issues related to equal opportunity for gay and lesbian troops.
Planners also will host a job fair, a reflection of the persistent joblessness that has awaited many returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.