Michelle Benecke is an American legal expert on LGBTQ civil rights and a sought-after thought leader in matters pertaining to homeland security, technology, and government affairs. The co-founder of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy group created to provide legal help for service members facing harassment, death threats, assaults, and other serious harms because of the military’s anti-LGBTQ policies, Benecke eventually gained prominence through her work campaigning to end the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.
A Harvard Law alum, Benecke left a promising career as an Amy officer to pursue a career in advocacy for LGBTQ service members, a community which she had been a part of as a lesbian serving in the Army.
A first-generation college grad, Benecke attended the University of Virginia on an ROTC scholarship. While at the University of Virginia, she was also a member of the university’s Division One softball team where she filled the position of starting catcher.
As the daughter of a retired Army Master Sergeant and Vietnam veteran, Benecke commenced her ROTC training with high hopes that she would have a long and rewarding career as a female Army officer. And although she launched into her Army career with distinction and quickly rose through the ranks to become a Captain leading over 100 soldiers in a traditionally male-dominated combat arms field, Benecke knew that a long-term career in the Army would be impossible because of her sexuality. According to army policy at the time, identifying as gay or bisexual was grounds for discharge from service.
With this reality in mind, Benecke courageously decided to rechart her future with the goal of advocating for the rights of other LGBTQ service members—and ultimately change the military’s policies targeting LGBTQ service members.
Michelle Benecke’s Work Defending Servicemembers
After establishing the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network in 1993, the same year that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was instituted, Benecke and her co-founder Dixon Osburn and team mounted a campaign that ultimately succeeded in abolishing the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy in 2011.
In addition to her advocacy work for LGBTQ service members, Benecke has served in other capacities including assignments in all three branches of the federal government. Presently, she works on Capitol Hill as a staff member for the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.