Catalyst for change

by Raymond Penney,

  • Veteran and Willamette Law/MBA student Andy Blevins
    Veteran and Willamette Law/MBA student Andy Blevins

Veteran and Willamette Law/MBA student Andy Blevins re-arms himself with tools to change the armed forces community.

The path to law school for second-year student Andy Blevins has taken him from U.S. military service to a White House internship and, ultimately, to Willamette University College of Law. Throughout all of his pursuits, involvement in and service to the community have been his common motivating factors.  

Blevins joined the U.S. Navy right out of high school, served as a cryptologic technician and received an honorable discharge at the end of his enlistment. While on active duty, he founded and worked as the regional director for the Guam and Mariana Island’s chapter of OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (OutServe-SLDN), a national organization devoted to assisting those affected by “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue” policies.

His wish to help the LGBTQ community comes from his own experiences serving under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” As a gay man, Blevins felt like a second-class citizen, living two distinctly separate lives out of fear that his true self would make him less worthy of the uniform. He found it difficult to balance his deep-rooted patriotism and his sexuality. Blevins wanted to help others who suffer the same conflicting feelings understand the two are not incompatible — a person can be both patriotic and gay.  

Toward the end of his military service, Blevins applied for and was accepted into the White House Internship Program, where he worked in First Lady Michelle Obama’s office, quite an extraordinary opportunity for someone without a college degree.

“I had the opportunity to speak with several incredible leaders within the Obama administration,” says Blevins, “and they all encouraged me to use my own experience as a catalyst for change.”

His experiences in Washington helped Blevins identify what was important to him and plan his next steps. He refocused his efforts and attended the University of Colorado, where he studied English and earned a postgraduate certificate in nonprofit administration.

Blevins continued to serve the LGBTQ military community during his undergraduate education. He worked in various roles with OutServe-SLDN, Military Partners and Family Coalition, American Military Partner Association and the Military Family Advisory Network.

In the fall of 2015, Blevins started working toward his JD/MBA at Willamette University. He admits that he intended on staying close to family in Colorado for law school, but after meeting the admissions staff and speaking with Dean Curtis Bridgeman, he felt like Willamette was home.

“I knew this was where I was supposed to spend the next several years learning about the law,” he says.

As he also wanted to pursue an MBA; Willamette’s JD/MBA program was the perfect solution. “It provides me with the tools I need to pursue my career as a lawyer,” he says, “in addition to the skillsets to better support these community organizations.”

When offered a position with OutServe-SLDN’s legal team, Blevins jumped at the opportunity to practice his lawyering skills and strengthen his understanding of the law for the organization he knows so well. He works for a team of three lawyers that takes in 30-40 clients per month, with most cases involving military law, the Department of Veteran Affairs or discrimination and/or harassment.

As the legal department needs to be up to date on military, federal and state laws within every state that hosts a military installation, Blevins’ research skills and legal knowledge continue to grow. Comparing notes from his first clients to his current ones shows how much his research skills and legal understanding have progressed.

“I’m arming myself with the tools necessary to bring much needed change into my community,” he says. “It feels good learning the law and being a catalyst for change.”

While attending Willamette, Blevins is already making a difference in the lives of individuals who are just now waking up to their own voices. He’s helping his brothers- and sisters-in-arms find their balance and their peace — and others are taking notice.

“Andy is compassionate, deeply committed and tenacious in ensuring that all who come to our organization for legal assistance get the necessary and vital help they need and fundamentally deserve,” says Matt Thorn, executive director for OutServe-SLDN. “It isn’t every day or in every lifetime that you find someone like Andy, who works tirelessly, endlessly to advance the interests of others and who possesses a fundamental, inherent drive to do good, to enact change.”

Blevins has heard from many people who are grateful for OutServe-SLDN’s help and hope to do similar work with their own organizations. “It’s incredibly invigorating to have somebody seek you out for the work you do and say they want to help,” he notes. “It makes everything worthwhile.”

This article originally appeared in the fall 2016 edition of Willamette Lawyer, the magazine of the first law school in the Pacific Northwest.