The repeal of the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was good news to Trevor Thomas, a Grand Valley alumnus who worked extensively toward that goal as he directed communications for two lead groups on the issue.
Thomas served as the director of communications for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, and served as deputy director of communications for the Human Rights Campaign for three years. Thomas also directed the communications rollout of Lady Gaga’s internationally recognized efforts to help spotlight the repeal by asking young people to call their senators.
Speaking to students at Grand Valley just days after the repeal, Thomas gave a presentation that summarized the groups’ efforts and “made it look like an easier process than it was.”
“One aspect of our efforts was culling through 10,000 military service members’ stories to select a couple of dozen that were featured in a national series - ‘Stories From the Frontlines’ - that began initially online and later went mainstream,” said Thomas. All of the stories were shaped into personal letters sent to President Obama, sharing the service member’s experience and asking for support of the repeal.
Thomas said social media as well as mainstream media played a large role in getting the groups’ message heard. “By posting the stories online, they began to generate their own traffic in social media, grassroots media and blogs,” he said. Another aspect of the campaign was a constant stream of Op Ed pieces submitted by service members to many major newspapers in Washington, D.C., to influence the vote on Capitol Hill.
Thomas received a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from Grand Valley in 2005, and began his career as a volunteer at WGVU-TV, prior to a paid position there and later at WOOD-TV. In 2008 Thomas served as the LGBT specialty media director for the Democratic National Convention Committee, and before joining HRC, worked on the communications team for Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
Thomas offered a bit of advice to students about being prepared to show their value to perspective employers. “Don’t be afraid to make cold calls to find your first job,” he said. He cited his own cold call to the governor’s campaign communications director in 2006. “You might be surprised by what it leads to,” he said.