Allyson Robinson’s departure from military rights group Outserve-SLDN was messy, shrouded in speculation, and leaves behind questions about the organization’s future.
BY Sunnivie Brydum
July 30 2013
When the first out transgender executive director of a national LGBT organization was asked to resign after less than a year in her post, some activists were quick to suspect anti-trans bias at work. Other observers immediately ruled bias out, citing a financial crisis within the organization.
Weeks later, there is no evidence of explicit transphobia surrounding Allyson Robinson’s June ouster at LGBT military advocacy group OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. What happened is a bit more nuanced, based on interviews and documents made available to The Advocate.
Members and observers acknowledged that OutServe-SLDN faced a serious financial crisis, as external donations dropped precipitously after the 2011 repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Several members clarified that allegations the organization was bankrupt are untrue, but sources inside the group confirm that OutServe-SLDN had struggled to meet its payroll in the weeks leading up to the June 22 meeting and had begun quietly laying off nonessential staff and working to minimize its overhead. The organization’s 11 full- and part-time employees on payroll had been reduced to six full-time employees and one part-time worker by June 2012.
OutServe-SLDN’s financial woes were likely compounded by a culture clash between OutServe and SLDN, which formally merged in early 2012. OutServe was a digital group of activists working together to raise the voices of gay and lesbian soldiers serving in silence under DADT, while SLDN looked more like a traditional, brick-and-mortar advocacy organization. Without the common, unifying enemy of DADT, the mission of both OutServe and SLDN became less clear. While Robinson was elected to the group’s top spot by a nearly unanimous vote last October, personality conflicts ever since between the new executive director and high-ranking board members were quite familiar to those inside the organization.
On June 22, a regularly scheduled board meeting for OutServe-SLDN took an unexpected and public turn when an email from board member Sue Fulton that proposed asking for Robinson’s resignation was inadvertently sent to the broader membership, and subsequently leaked to various media outlets, including Buzzfeed, The Bilerico Project, and AmericaBlog. In the following weeks, OutServe-SLDN scrambled to do damage control on subsequent reports that speculated about Robinson’s ouster being a result of systematic transphobia. Both Buzzfeed and Bilerico posited the theory that Robinson’s removal was sparked by anti-trans bias, with the latter publishing an article on July 10 asking if the OutServe-SLDN scenario was “LGB Transphobia Rearing Its Ugly Head?” Other reports from Bilerico and Buzzfeed accused former co-chair Josh Seefried of leading a coup against Robinson, whose star was rising, arguably overshadowing Seefried.