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Osburn steps down as executive director of SLDN
Former Mautner director takes interim helm

by Steve Ralls

C. Dixon Osburn stepped down from his 13-year post at SLDN at the end of this April.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — C. Dixon Osburn, longtime Executive Director for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), resigned last month to pursue new career opportunities. Osburn is one of the co-founders of the 13-year-old group — whose mission is to end discrimination against and harassment of service members harmed by “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and related forms of intolerance.

“It has been an honor, privilege and inspiration to work with our men and women in uniform who fight for our freedom even when denied their own,” said Osburn. “I am glad that I could do my small part for them, and for all Americans who believe in equality and our nation’s security. I have had the privilege of working with amazing staff and board members. I leave proud of our record of accomplishment together and confident that the days of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ are numbered. After 13 years of work here, it is time for me to explore new opportunities.”
“Dixon Osburn is at the top of his game,” said Zoe Dunning, SLDN board co-chair. “His commitment to our troops has been unwavering.”

“His record of accomplishment in obtaining results is exceptional,” said Co-Chair Joe Tom Easley. “His able leadership over many years has greatly helped SLDN become the strong and effective organization that it is today.”

Kathleen DeBold, past executive director of the Mautner Project, has been named to serve as interim SLDN executive director while a search is made for a permanent successor for the group. The board favored DeBold because of her track record of excellent management and responsible stewardship most recently at The Mautner Project, and also her experience in advocacy and public affairs during her tenure at the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. In this interim role, she has expressed her desire not to be considered for a permanent appointment as executive director.

Detroit News reporter Deb Price wrote in December 2006, SLDN’s “modest, pragmatic approach toward getting rid of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is the most likely way the ban will be lifted and a repeat of the painful crisis of 1993 avoided.” In April 2007, The Advocate noted that Osburn’s timing of seven senior officers coming out as gay in response to Gen. Peter Pace’s remarks calling gays immoral “reflected well on the savvy of SLDN.”

Marty Meehan, the lead sponsor of a bill to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” said recently, “I am confident that SLDN’s hard work will soon lead to the demise of the discriminatory and counterproductive ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy.”

Osburn and Michelle Benecke co-founded the organization in 1993 and served as co-executive directors until Benecke’s departure in 2000, when Osburn became SLDN’s sole executive director. Under Osburn’s continued leadership, SLDN has evolved from a small nonprofit group meeting the urgent needs of at-risk gay and lesbian servicemembers living under onerous provisions of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue” law to a respected national voice advocating lifting of the unfair military ban.

Osburn is the recipient of many awards and honors. He has received the 1994 GAYLAW Distinguished National Service Award, and the 1998 Kevin Larkin Award for Public Service from the Massachusetts Lesbian and Gay Bar Association. In 1998, Osburn was named by The Advocate magazine as one of the Top 10 National Gay Leaders. From 2000 to 2007, under Osburn’s leadership, SLDN received more than seven distinguished awards.

Today, SLDN operates with a $3 million budget, with 17 full-time staff and countless pro bono attorneys and professionals generously contributing their time and skills to defend and support gays serving at home and in overseas conflicts.

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