Bil Browning

Robinson to Resign: Is OutServe-SLDN Future in Jeopardy?

Filed By Bil Browning | June 24, 2013 6:45 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: Allyson Robinson, Josh Seefried, large donation, OutServe-SLDN

OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson announced today in a posting on the group's magazine website that she will resign her position in the near future.

"It is my intent to continue to lead OutServe-SLDN in the near term as we approach an bigstock-Savings-Loss-42104506.jpghistoric moment for our community and our country," she said. "After that, at a date to be determined, I have decided of my own accord to step down, and will work with our members to ensure an orderly transition to the next phase of this organization's life."

Sill in question though is what will happen to OutServe-SLDN's funding? Will they remain a viable organization once the dust has settled?

The organization's board met repeatedly in emergency session to try to come to a resolution on Robinson's position within the group, but locked on a motion that removed board co-chair Josh Seefried from his leadership position for leading the sudden coup against Robinson. Seefried has refused to step down voluntarily. At least three board members and all of the senior staff, as well as some additional staffers and volunteers resigned in protest.

Now movement funders are starting to question not only the state of the organization, but whether OutServe-SLDN will be a recipient of future funding.

How Not to Remove an Executive Director

The Haas Jr. Fund funneled almost a million dollars into Servicemembers Legal Defense Network between 2002 and 2012. The foundation has not donated to the combined entity formed by the merger of SLDN and OutServe in mid-2012.

Matt Foreman, Director of the Haas Jr. Fund's Gay and Immigrant Rights division, thinks that OutServe-SLDN's public meltdown can be harmful to the organization's reputation among grant makers.

"It's surprising to me how many corporations, non-profits, and universities get embroiled in public and fractious executive leadership transitions," he said. "This certainly isn't unique to the LGBT community and it afflicts large and small operations across the board."

"There are many ways to manage transitions to minimize harm to the organization and executive involved," Foreman continued. "Unfortunately, these situations almost always involve strong emotions and dramatically divergent opinions and can spiral out of control quickly."

What About the Arcus Grant Money?

One of the major grant makers currently funding OutServe-SLDN is the Arcus Foundation which awarded Robinson the first "New Leadership" grant. The money is awarded "in support of promising social justice leaders and their work," according to the foundation's website. OutServe-SLDN was given $50,000 after the announcement in December 2012.

At the time of the grant announcement, Arcus Foundation Executive Director Kevin Jennings praised Robinson and stressed the group's confidence in her abilities.

"As a soldier, activist and minister, Allyson Robinson has already made extraordinary contributions to our country and to the world," Jennings said at the time. "In her new role at OutServe-SLDN, she has a tremendous opportunity for make further positive impact, and this grant is intended to help her maximize that potential."

Today, Arcus Foundation Vice President of Communication Bryan Simmons revealed that Robinson's ouster could spur a review of the grant. "Arcus has a standard process for assessing the progress and status of grants that would be applied to OutServe-SLDN as it would to any other grantee," Simmons said.

Simmons declined to say whether or not Robinson's forced resignation would affect the foundation's relationship with the troubled organization. "It would not be appropriate for Arcus to comment on any changes unfolding at the organization," he said.

How Will Other Funders React?

Robinson had also recently attended a gathering of leaders and activists where the Palm Center announced a new $1.5 million initiative to tackle open trans service in the military. As the first transgender leader of a major LGBT organization, Robinson returned home with promises of funding that may obviously never materialize now.

Andrew Lane, Director of Johnson Family Foundation and chair of the Funders for LGBTQ Issues network of foundations and wealthy donors, thinks OutServe-SLDN's treatment of Robinson will definitely affect their relationship with large donors.

"In the eyes of many of my colleagues in the funding community, she was/is a rockstar. Most funders walked away from SLDN post-DADT repeal. A visionary leader was key to luring us back into the fold," he said. "I guess we'll never know if we had one here who could've made that happen."

"I am deeply saddened by the recent news of Allyson Robinson's departure from Outserve-SLDN," Lane continued. "Allyson is one of the movement's superstars - smart, savvy, strategic, uncompromising. And perhaps most importantly, a profoundly decent and loving human being. I am not alone among the major institutional funders of LGBT equality/justice in this assessment."

Robinson, however, isn't looking back. "In light of the momentous events the coming days hold for us all, I intend to put this matter behind us and look forward to shifting the focus back to where it belongs: our LGBT service members, veterans, and families, who sacrifice so much every day, and their ongoing fight for full equality," she said.

Whether or not OutServe-SLDN will be able to continue that fight with Robinson gone and Seefried at the defacto helm remains to be seen.

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