White House lauds students’ Military Acceptance Project
The Military Acceptance Project (MAP), a USC School of Social Work student initiative-turned-nonprofit organization that promotes understanding, acceptance and equality for military service members, veterans and their families, has received perhaps the highest recognition for a group of its kind: a Champion of Change award by the White House.
MAP members recently visited Washington, D.C., where the White House held a ceremony and discussion recognizing the organization as one of six winning groups that entered a video challenge demonstrating their efforts to ensure safety, dignity and equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
For Master of Social Work (MSW) student John “Jasper” Kump, Kristen Kavanaugh MSW ’12, and six other School of Social Work’s San Diego Academic Center students and alumni, the hard work of advancing MAP’s mission — promoting acceptance of the disenfranchised through enlightenment, empowerment and service — has paid off.
“For us, it’s all about putting the focus on gay and lesbian service members. Getting this recognition just proves the point that their service is just as important and challenging as everyone else’s [service],” said Kavanaugh, who serves as executive director of MAP. “An honor like this is a major ‘thank you’ that many service members haven’t heard in their service. These people can now openly talk about their service and be proud.”
MAP submitted a video centered on the theme that LGBT service members are just like every other soldier in their dedication to their country. The video depicts LGBT service members describing their experience as part of the military; many come from military families, served in combat, and share the desire to make a difference and help others.
“Today’s Champions of Change have worked tirelessly to improve the lives of LGBT people across the country, and they represent countless other individuals and organizations who are equally dedicated to equal rights for LGBT people,” said Jon Carson, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. “The collective efforts of these ‘champions,’ and others like them, are crucial to achieving our goal of full equality for all Americans, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity. We are honored to join them in the march toward a more perfect union.”
MAP recently celebrated its first anniversary, and the focus of its mission has expanded from offering support to those affected by the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which was recently repealed, to promoting acceptance of anyone with a connection to the military who feels their voices haven’t been heard. The group provides direct services and resources to service members, veterans and their families, as well as a dialogue-based training model developed by clinical social workers to create a culture of acceptance in the military, businesses and communities.
“We’re all about the concept of acceptance,” said Kavanaugh, herself a U.S. Marine and Navy veteran who left military service because she no longer wanted to lie about being a lesbian. “It’s not just about LGBT issues anymore but also gender, race, faith and other issues in the military that affect marginalized populations. Acceptance is a basic human need.”
Though the military no longer officially adheres to the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, ” which prohibited military personnel from discriminating against closeted LGBT service members while barring the openly gay from military service, Kavanaugh said there is still much to do in terms of changing military culture to promote acceptance of all people. Many still don’t feel comfortable serving openly. In addition, life after military service can be complicated for any veteran, so MAP has been working with San Diego businesses to teach them how to effectively attract and retain veteran employees. Now MAP would like to expand its services beyond the local level and is working on funding such an endeavor.
Being honored as a Champion of Change by the White House isn’t the first time MAP has been recognized for its efforts. The Pentagon had previously invited the group to participate in its first LGBT Pride Month celebration in Washington, D.C. MAP also won the Hero Organization of the Year award, and Kavanaugh won the Up and Coming Student award for her work in founding and leading MAP from the San Diego and Imperial counties region of the National Association of Social Workers-California Chapter earlier this year.
“This [Champion of Change] honor is among the highest recognition that these students can achieve for their work,” said Jane Allgood, clinical associate professor at the School of Social Work, who served as faculty adviser to MAP and attended the ceremony. “Kristen, Jasper and other MAP members represented the organization with passion, depth and a clear understanding of their mission. It is extremely gratifying to see our students accomplish so much and to work together as a committed team.”