GLBVA Presidential Address to 2001 Convention – 31Mar01

An Address by
GLBVA National President James P. Donovan

to the Seventh Annual National Convention of GLBVA

March 31, 2001

We come together annually to assess where we are, to share experiences of both successes and failures with one another, and to plan for the upcoming year. I present for your consideration and reflection an analysis of the state of GLBVA organized according to what some management consultants term the SWOT system:

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Opportunities
  • Threats

Strengths: GLBVA’s great strength has always been the dedication of its members. The fact that this convention is occurring, and that you are here is ample demonstration of this fact. We have a mailing list and a well-produced newsletter, The Forward Observer which not only acts as a means of communication among our membership but is also one way of presenting our case to those who sway public opinion.

Weaknesses: As with most organizations, GLBVA has suffered from its share of leadership problems. Though it has been fortunate in having received the best efforts of numerous, talented people, all too often personalities, egos, and “turf guarding” activities have obscured the greater vision and sapped the effectiveness and vitality of the organization. The failure of the attempt to lift the ban in the early days of the Clinton administration disheartened many who simply lost the will to continue the struggle for justice. Thus attrition further reduced our ranks and visibility.

Opportunities: Despite these difficulties, there have been those who have persevered. This past year has seen the establishment or reactivation of three new chapters. In the reports of the chapter leadership yesterday we thrilled to the dynamic growth and success of San Diego and St. Louis, and the reactivation of the chapter in San Antonio. Our National Secretary reported that we have members in thirty-eight states. Some of these are isolated individuals for whom the only contact with other gay veterans is our newsletter. If we are to advance the cause of gay veterans, the organization must grow to have a presence wherever it is needed, and to attain credibility with policy makers and the public at large. Thus one priority for the new year is GROWTH. Specifically, we must establish an on-going presence in the Washington, DC area.

Successful growth must be assisted by communication among ourselves, not only for the few brief hours of the annual conventions, but continual sharing among chapters and the national officers. Thus my second point is the centrality of COMMUNICATION. Communication, in the general sense, by simply sharing newsletters. Communication in the personal sense by one-on-one discussions and by closer contact between the national organization and local chapter leaders.

Thirdly, we must build on both previous growth and better communication by OUTREACH in cooperative ventures. PFLAG and GLSEN were two organizations frequently mentioned yesterday for local initiatives. In so doing we increase credibility and effectiveness for all concerned. This very morning our featured speaker will be Jeff Cleghorn of SLDN. We must seize the opportunities presented in this convention to explore ways in which our two organizations, each devoted to assisting gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered veterans, can work more closely together.

Threats:We are all well aware of the external threats we, as gay service members and veterans have and do face. There is another kinds of threat which can prevent us from taking constructive action on the opportunities presented to us: Its name is COMPLACENCY. Recently a well respected but conservative gay author published an op-ed piece in which the argument was made that as a virtual stalemate now exists in the Kulturkampf between gays and conservatives, and as things for many gay people are not intolerable, members of the gay community should simply learn to accept their status as second class citizens. Ironically, and similarly, some community activists on the left now employ the term post-gay to suggest truce if not outright surrender in the struggle for equality.

My friends, we dare not surrender to exhaustion. No matter how pervasive the prejudice, banal the injustice, or corrupt the political process, we must not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory! We know that the battle is not won: so long as gay and lesbian people daily are hunted and discharged; so long as the military continues to perpetrate the very injustices from which it ostensibly exists to defend society; so long as the obscenity of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” makes mockery of the promise “liberty and justice for all,” we must, we shall continue to fight. We are tired; we have suffered losses, but we are not deceived; and we will not be denied!

GLBVA must increase in membership, in chapters and credibility. Let us resolve to GROW.

GLBVA must become a more visible national presence, a more insistent voice on behalf of lesbian and gay veterans. Let us learn to COMMUNICATE more effectively with one another and within our local communities.

GLBVA must move the rich and powerful to embrace the equality envisioned by the nation’s founders. Let us find means to COOPERATE with others of compatible aims that together we may prevail against the forces of tyranny.

It is my sincere hope that each delegate to this convention will come away from this weekend revitalized and recommitted to the cause of justice. Though our days of active military service may be over, our gravest battles and greatest victories lie ahead.