Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to ending discrimination against and harassment of military personnel on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. SLDN was formed in 1993, in response to Congress’s statutory enactment of the military’s long-standing gay exclusion in the so-called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) statute.
SLDN’s efforts include policy development, impact litigation, watchdog, and legal aid activities. SLDN engages in policy research, educational efforts, and litigation aimed at lifting the military’s ban on gay service personnel. In court, it has repeatedly challenged the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy as a violation of privacy, Equal Protection, the First Amendment, and the liberty interest within the due process clauses that was held to be constitutionally protected in Lawrence v. Texas. SLDN has also challenged the military sodomy statute as unconstitutional in the wake of Lawrence (United States v. Marcum). In 2005, SLDN worked with congressional leaders to introduce a proposed legislative repeal of the DADT policy, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act. SLDN regularly engages in educational efforts targeting key leaders in all branches of government. It also coordinates an annual lobby day that brings veterans to Capitol Hill to urge Members of Congress to repeal DADT.
Every year, SLDN provides free advice and legal services to many hundreds of active-duty and former military personnel in matters related to sexual orientation and gender identity. Its online Survival Guide is a comprehensive resource about DADT for service members. SLDN also produces an important annual report, Conduct Unbecoming, available at its website, analyzing the gay discharge–related activities of the various branches of the military and monitoring compliance or noncompliance with the supposedly protective aspects of the DADT law. SLDN has been active in documenting antigay harassment within the military and in pressuring various branches to clarify and enforce their antiharassment policies. SLDN also advocates for more protective privacy policies and for psychotherapist, doctor–patient, and chaplain privileges that would protect service members who discuss their sexual orientation or gender identity with health care providers and religious counselors.
SLDN works in coalition with a number of other advocacy groups. For example, with American Veterans for Equal Rights and the Human Rights Campaign, it cofounded Documenting Courage, an online campaign to tell the stories of lesbian, gay, and transgender troops. Working with the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military and the Society of American Law Teachers, it established a web page to assist in developing organizing strategies around the Solomon Amendment. SLDN filed an amicus brief in the ongoing litigation challenging the Solomon Amendment (FAIR v. Rumsfeld ).
SLDN also engages in activities that support service member and veteran pride and increase the visibility of these groups and individuals.
MARC R. POIRIER
References and Further Reading
Cases and Statutes Cited
See also Gay and Lesbian Rights; Right of Privacy; Sodomy Laws