By Morgan M. Hurley | Editor
Local activists recruiting LGBT change-makers
On the surface, Shawn VanDiver and Kristen Kavanaugh couldn’t be more different; VanDiver is a straight, white, animated and often raucous former enlisted Navy sailor and a single dad; Kavanaugh is a lesbian of color, a calm, cool and collected former Marine Corps finance officer, and married.
When you scratch that surface, however, you find they have a lot more in common than meets the eye. Serendipitously thrown together as colleagues, the two became fast friends; they provide balance to each other and are committed to effecting change across the globe — together.
Kavanaugh and VanDiver are the co-chairs of the local chapter of the Truman National Security Project, a community of likeminded, progressive individuals focused on innovative policies and political advocacy with the overall goal of “a safer, more prosperous world.”
Launched in 2004, the Truman Project is a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., and is currently in the midst of a nationwide membership drive that will last through Sept. 29. VanDiver and Kavanaugh are looking for kindred spirits to join them.
According to its website, “America is strongest when we utilize all of our tools — defense, diplomacy, development, and democracy — to engage the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.” Truman members call it the “4Ds.”
The name “Truman,” obviously came from President Harry S. Truman.
“It’s about the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan,” Van Diver said. “It’s about that whole worldview that we’re not alone and we can’t be. …. The idea that we can be [an] isolationist country, America first, that just doesn’t work.”
While membership — currently at 1,500 nationally — is the heart and soul of the Truman Project, it is extremely competitive to get accepted and though there is no age requirement, applicants tend to be between the ages of 27 and 40.
“We’re looking for mid-career professionals who kick ass and take names, who want to continue changing the world, and are looking for an outlet to do that,“ Van Diver said, adding that they should also be interested in national security, which includes clean energy, transportation, cyber security, border and immigration, and even human rights.
After an extensive application process, those selected must attend an orientation and annual conference in D.C. before fully being vested in their membership.
“I don’t do politics in my professional life, but there are things that I am interested in and through Truman, I can work on these things or connect with people who can effect change or help me effect change if I’m not doing it on my own,” Kavanaugh said. “You don’t have to be sitting on Capitol Hill or in the White House in order to make a difference.”
While VanDiver, who was raised around the LGBT community but is not gay, proudly marched alongside LGBT service members in uniform at San Diego Pride in 2012, he suffered great consequences at the hands of his superiors as a result and he left the Navy the next year.
“The decision to march in that parade was the best decision I ever made,” he said. “What matters to me is that I took a stand and it wasn’t even for attention. I learned that, even as a straight white guy who always had it easy that anyone can get screwed.
“But I value every second of my Navy career,” he continued. “I learned so much about the world and it changed my worldview.”
Though post-active service VanDiver had spent several years in the public relations, media and political arena, his exploits hadn’t gotten him into the circles he yearned for.
“I have a master’s degree in homeland security and I’ve been teaching and I’ve been engaged politically, but I certainly had no business running around the Pentagon or doing anything like that,” he said. “Truman has given me the opportunity to get in the room and have those discussions. As a former enlisted man in the Navy, that [enlisted] perspective is important when generals and admirals are the only ones giving input. It’s offered me a voice.”
The local group conducts closed meetings attended by members only; open meetings that consist of various activities and allow others to learn more about Truman; and what VanDiver calls “public-facing events,” such as their annual “Memorial Day Rose Drop.”
On a national scale, VanDiver said two of the largest initiatives the Truman Project has had a measurable impact on were women in combat and the Iran deal.
“We have some pretty cool initiatives like True Diversity that are run and led by LGBT folks,” VanDiver said. “The Truman community is just so amazing and it crosses all sectors, but in particular, we have some incredible LGBT folks, nationally and locally.”
Kavanaugh’s connections with Truman helped get her a coveted prime time position on stage at the recent Democratic National Convention, just before former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
“It was pretty cool,” she said.“I approached it from a very Marine Corps perspective. I was there to do a mission; I didn’t have time to go hang out with my friends and go schmooze like everyone else was doing, which looked like a lot of fun. I was there to deliver a message. Once I deliver the message, then I can hang out with my friends and enjoy the moment.”
Note: That “moment” came when Angela Bassett finished her speech and randomly sat down next to her back stage.
The application fee for Truman is $35 and annual dues are $250, but VanDiver is quick to dispel any financial concerns, stating that scholarships are available and airline miles are often donated to those who need them.
Those interested should contact the co-chairs and find out more about the community that they rave about and keeps these two very different souls marching along together.
“That’s why it works,” Kavanaugh said of her partnership with VanDiver. “He makes me do things that make me uncomfortable and I like reel him in when I need to.”
To learn more, visit trumanproject.org. If you have questions about the local chapter or the application process, contact VanDiver at firstname.lastname@example.org or Kavanaugh at email@example.com.
—Morgan M. Hurley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.