Thirteen gay rights activists were arrested Monday after they handcuffed themselves to the White House’s north gate in a protest demonstration urging President Barack Obama to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the military’s ban openly gay service members.
Former Army Lt. Dan Choi, an Iraq war veteran and West Point graduate, led the midday protest on the opening day of the lame-duck session of Congress, in an effort to pressure on Democrats and the President to repeal DADT January.
The demonstration was one of a series of events scheduled for this week, and organized by the activist group GetEqual, who is lobbying the U.S. Senate for passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, the defense which includes a provision authorizing repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Choi addressed the crowed and media that gathered to watch the protest:
“We have served our country valiantly, the defense of freedom and justice, now it is time for our leaders to do the same.
After visiting Senator Harry Reid today, the majority leader, his staff telling us that the president is not engaged, at all, in the repeal of the most discriminatory law that bars soldiers from telling the truth.
After all his rhetoric I think we must conclude that there is truth to the knowledge in homophobia of both sorts.
There is a loud homophobia, those with platforms. And there is a silent homophobia of those who purport to be our friends and do nothing. Loud homophobia and silent homophobia have the same result, they must be combated and this is what we intend to do today.”
“On the White House fence today, and in a jail cell this evening, are thirteen American patriots,” said Robin McGehee, co-founder and director of GetEQUAL.
“Included in the thirteen arrested are veterans and advocates spanning three generations of brave and courageous Americans, who sacrificed their careers and lives to see the day this discriminatory ban on openly gay and lesbian service in the military finally goes into the history books. Today, we have sent a loud and clear message to the U.S. Senate and President Obama that we expect them to make good on their promises to end this inhumane law this year, during the lame-duck session of Congress,” McGehee said.
The 13 demonstrators, and their bios, via GetEqual:
- Five veterans Lt. Dan Choi, Petty Officer Autumn Sandeen, Cpl. Evelyn Thomas, and Cadet Mara Boyd) who were arrested back in March during the GetEQUAL organized “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” act of civil disobedience at the White House fence demanding President Obama show leadership on repeal.
- Robin McGehee, co-founder and director of GetEQUAL, and Dan Fotou, action strategist for GetEQUAL.
- Former U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Miriam Ben-Shalom, who was discharged in 1976 for declaring and admitting she was a lesbian. She became the first-ever LGBT servicemember reinstated to her position in the U.S. Military, by a U.S. Federal District Court. On July 30th, 1993, Miriam and 26 other protesters were arrested at the White House fence for protesting then-President Bill Clinton’s broken promise to repeal the gay ban – instead signing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” bill into law.
- Former U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Justin Elzie who, in 1993, became the first Marine ever investigated and discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law. Elzie was also the first soldier to be discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to fight his discharge and win – resulting in his service as a Marine for four years as an openly gay man.
- Former U.S. Army Arabic Linguist Ian Finkenbinder, who was discharged from the Army in December 2004 after announcing to his superiors that he was gay. Finkenbinder is an Iraq war veteran and was about to return for a second tour of duty when he was discharged.
- U.S. Army Veteran and Repeal Advocate Rob Smith, who was deployed to both Iraq and Kuwait before being honorably discharged after deciding not to re-enlist in the U.S. Army due to the added pressure of living under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.
- Father Geoff Farrow, a Catholic priest who spoke out against the church’s official stance in support of California’s Proposition 8, removing the rights of same-sex couples to marry. Because of his courageous stance against Prop 8, Father Geoff Farrow was removed as pastor of St. Paul’s by his bishop and suspended as a priest.
- Scott Wooledge, a New York-based LGBT civil rights advocate and blogger who has written extensively on the movement to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” at Daily Kos and Pam’s House Blend.
- Michael Bedwell, long-time LGBT civil rights advocate, close friend of Leonard Matlovich, and administrator of the site www.leonardmatlovich.com.
GetEqual issued this statement late Monday night: “All 13 of our brave American heroes are back home tonight and are excited to continue taking action as we move forward. All were charged with failure to obey lawful order and are required to appear in court in DC on Dec 15.”
Earlier on Monday, Choi and a group of veterans held a vigil at Matlovich’s grave site at Washington D.C.’s Congressional Cemetery. Matlovich is a former U.S. Air Force Sergeant who was discharged in 1975 for disclosing that he was gay.