March 18, 2010 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
3 arrested at White House protest

U.S. Army Lt. Dan Choi was arrested Thursday after handcuffing himself to the White House fence in protest of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." (Photo by Joe Tresh)

U.S. Army Lt. Dan Choi was arrested Thursday after handcuffing himself to the White House fence in protest of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” (Photo by Joe Tresh)

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A gay Army lieutenant and two others were arrested Thursday outside the White House in an unannounced protest against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law that bars gays from serving openly in the military.

Lt. Dan Choi, who is in the process of being discharged from the U.S. Army because he’s gay, and Jim Pietrangelo, a former Army captain who was discharged in 2004 for being gay, were charged with failing to obey a lawful order to disperse after they handcuffed themselves to the White House fence along Pennsylvania Avenue.

Uniformed officers with the U.S. Secret Service separately arrested Robin McGehee of GetEqual.org, who helped organize the protest, on the same charge. McGehee was one of the lead organizers of the October 2009 LGBT march on Washington.

A crowd of about 100 people cheered as the Park Police officers cut the handcuffs that Choi and Pietrangelo used to attach themselves to the White House fence and placed a new set of handcuffs on the men before escorting them into a police wagon.

Prior to their arrest, Choi, while handcuffed to the fence, led the crowd in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Many of the supporters in the crowd carried American flags.

A Park Police spokesperson said the men were taken to a Park Police station at Anacostia Park, where they were booked. A Secret Service spokesperson said McGehee was expected to be taken to a D.C. police facility to be booked and processed.

For reasons that could not be immediately determined, Choi and Pietrangelo were held overnight at the Central Cellblock, which is operated by D.C. police. McGhee was released after the Secret Service dropped the charge against her when she agreed to pay a $35 “post and forfeit” fine. Choi and Pietrangelo were scheduled to be arraigned Friday afternoon in D.C. Superior Court.

Choi announced plans for the White House protest about a half hour before it began during a noon rally in Freedom Plaza that the Human Rights Campaign organized in support of efforts to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Choi was not a scheduled speaker at the rally. In a statement, HRC spokesperson Trevor Thomas said that Choi first asked HRC President Joe Solmonese if the solider could have a speaking role at the event.

“Joe explained that it wasn’t his sole decision to make on the spot given that there was already an established program that included Kathy Griffin, other organizations and veterans,” Thomas said.

Choi then spoke with Griffin, Thomas said, and she agreed to bring him on stage and speak to the crowd during time allocated for her remarks.

Once on stage, Choi urged rally attendees to march with him to the White House to send a message to “repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ — not next year, not tomorrow, but now. Now is the time.”

“I am going to the White House right now,” he said. “I want you all to take out your cell phones and any recording devices and document this moment right now with me as we together make history.”

Choi then turned to Griffin and asked, “Kathy, will you go with me?” In response, Griffin said, “Of course.” Choi then asked Solmonese if he would join the march. Solmonse said nothing, but raised his arm and gave Choi a thumbs up.

“Will you all here go with me?” Choi asked, and the audience roared with applause. Choi did not tell those attending the rally that he and Pietrangelo planned to handcuff themselves to the White House fence.

After Choi left the stage, Griffin continued the rally by telling attendants what number to text on their phones to learn the names of their congressional representatives. Griffin then asked for a moment of silence, allowing the crowd to pose with miniature American flags for a photo shoot.

A crowd of about 200 then followed Choi and Pietrangelo for the four-block walk from Freedom Plaza to the White House.

Thomas said that Solmonese and Eric Alva, a gay veteran who appeared alongside Solmonese and Griffin at the rally, chose to remain at Freedom Plaza to build on the efforts underway there.

“Joe Solmonese along with Eric Alva and others felt it was important to stay and engage those at the rally in ways they can continue building the pressure needed for repeal,” Thomas said. “This does nothing to diminish the actions taken by Lt. Choi and others. This is the nature of social change and everyone has a role to play.”

Phil Attey, a gay D.C. activist who attended the HRC rally, expressed particular distaste with Choi’s march to the White House and called it “politically unsophisticated beyond belief.”

“It’s a shame that our community needs to be educated about the political process and they don’t get it,” Attey said. “They don’t understand that Congress needs to be moved on this issue and that people across the country have the power to do that. And if they’re going to get them to yell and scream at the president, we’re going to fail, we’re going to lose.”

Shortly after Choi and Pietrangelo arrived at the White House, they handcuffed themselves to the fence, an action that drew a fast response from Secret Service personnel. Some uniformed Secret Service officers and U.S. Park Police quickly pushed the crowd away from the White House fence and into the street, and others erected yellow police tape around the area. About officers agents stayed behind the tape with Choi and Pietrangelo.

It was at around this time that McGehee was arrested near the White House fence.

In the moments that followed, the crowd began to chant “keep your promise, Obama,” a reference to the president’s oft-repeated pledge to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” As the chanting continued, four D.C. police cars joined an estimated 20 Secret Service and U.S. Park Police officers at the scene.

At one point, officers directed the protestors to stand at the nearby Lafayette Square. One woman in the crowd kneeled with her hands raised, praying aloud for the souls of gay people. At least one person told the woman that she should instead pray for equality.

About one hour after the protest began, uniformed officers released Choi and Pietrangelo from the handcuffs holding them to the White House fence. Both men were then arrested and taken from the scene in a white van.

Half or more of the crowd that arrived with Choi and Pietrangelo left the scene between the time the two men handcuffed themselves to the fence and the time police arrested them.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said Thursday’s protest demonstrated the growing unrest the White House and Congress faces on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“The events that unfolded today should be a clear sign that people are worried that [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] repeal is getting derailed this year, they are angry that the ones most affected by this issue are being shut out of the process by ineffective insiders, and their patience is wearing thin with the standard ‘trust us, they have a plan’ line,” he said.

Staff writers Chris Johnson and Joshua Lynsen contributed to this article.

DC Agenda videos by Steve Fox

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

27 Comments
  • Right on! I was there. What an awesome event.

  • Secret Service agents did not arrest Choi or Pietrangelo; their arrests were handled by officers of the United States Park Police, and they were transported away after their arrest in a USPP van. Robin McGehee, however, was arrested by the US Secret Service, for reasons unknown, and was taken away in a USSS-Uniformed Division cruiser.

  • Way to gO! If everyone did their part in spotlighting this issue it would be passed speedily. Certain people, like Lt. Choi, are lighting rods that can be used like today. As far as the “gay activist” Phil Attey….to each their own. You shouldn’t be negative towards others means of expression. You way isn’t the only right way to progress the topic no matter what opinion you might have! Yes, congress is were laws are made but the passion of the people can not be contained in a bill. We must be vocal! We must be steadfast and use the media to remind Obama of his promise.

    • Agreed. Clearly the “lobbying” being done hasn’t provided any results – it’s time to hold the Obama administration and Congress accountable for their promises.

  • I’m glad to hear that Lt. Choi had the courage, as well as the hundreds of others who marched with him, to go to the White House and express his frustrations with the snail’s-pace repeal of DADT. It dismays me to see that Joe Solomonese stood there dumbfounded when asked if he would come out of his cushy little world of “activism from afar” and actually do something to raise awareness and hold Obama to his word. I’ve become increasingly disappointed with HRC…it’s “events” to raise awareness…it’s “$100 a plate” dinners that don’t do jack squat for any of us…and it’s mantra of “let’s do things by the political process and not make waves”. Cut the crap, HRC.

    And Mr. Attey…you are entitled to your opinion, but don’t profess to speak for the rest of the gay community across the country. Those who are “politically ignorant” (in your terms) are usually the ones who have the balls to stand up for issues like this. Maybe activism of this type doesn’t fit into the nice little gift-wrapped box that folks like you and the HRC like to present to members of Congress (and to the many many members of HRC), but it’s raising awareness and raising the consciousness of our community. Just because you are a “gay activist” does not mean that you are the mouthpiece of our community, so stop acting like you are.

  • Mr Attey – thanks for showing your condescending nature once again. I don’t think “our community needs to be educated” by you. We get it, you want to make nice and be invited to pretty little events and have your drinks at nice parties. And there is a place for your kind of “activism”. But there is certainly also a place for the kind of activism and bravery on display today by Dan Choi. Surely a “gay activist” of the highest intellect like yourself understands that {said dripping with sarcasm}.

  • I applaud Lieutenant Choi. It is an incredibly gutsy thing to chain yourself to the White House fence while in uniform. This is one president who might actually take notice. We need more gay service men and women to take similar action so that the President, Congress and the rest of American can’t continue to ignore this deplorable situation.

  • Obama never would have come to HRC’s dinner if McGehee hadn’t organized the March on Washington. What will this direct activism generate? McGehee is becoming a genuine LGBT hero.

  • phil attey may no longer work for HRC, but he sure as hell still thinks like someone getting a paycheck from them. the folks who need educating are the executives, board members and staffers at HRC, and what they need to be educated about is that a big portion of the gay community is fed up with being told to wait.

    in the spring of 1993, before clinton proposed DADT, tim mcfeeley of HRCF and tonya domi of NGLTF organized a lift the ban rally. guess where it was held? freedom plaza! 17 years later, HRC takes us back there, but this time, the rally was turned into a march — to the white house.

    bravo to all who took action, over HRC’s ‘wait and let’s put on some more gala dinners’ approach today.

  • For some, Obamatoma is an incurable disease.

  • Phil Attay’s comments are typical of the rich white male guard of the HRC. All they care about is throwing parties for their donors and being only a figurehead for Gay rights. Lamda Legal has done tons more for Gay Rights than HRC and he has the balls to call Choi “political unsophisticated?”

    Frankly, I think it was a far better move than just rallying up near Dupont. Choi doesn’t give a shit about your HRC non-action. He wants it done. He’s a military man and things get done by action.

    HRC needs to stop jerking each other off (figuratively) and get the younger crowd involved in real action.

  • American history was largely made by people who, under that standard, were “politically unsophisticated beyond belief.”

  • Funny how these rich self-congratulating queens, who do nothing for the cause themselves, apart from attending $1,000.00 a plate dinners, have the nerve to criticise those who are actually willing to put it all on the line. “Politically unsophisticated,” look who’s talking! These rich sellouts are telling us to mindlessly stand by President Obama and the Dems in Congress when they haven’t done jack for us for over a decade. It really is time for us to demand our rights, and tell President Obama and the Dems in no uncertain terms that if they don’t deliver on their promises to the LGBT Community, they can forget about us volunteering for their campaigns, giving them money, or showing up for them on Election Day, because true enough, that is what they understand. We must insist that they pass the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act, ENDA, and a Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell this year, before the election.

  • In the article, you state that “For reasons that could not be immediately determined, Choi and Pietrangelo were held overnight at the Central Cellblock, which is operated by D.C. police.”

    The reason they were held overnight is because they were arrested after the 12:00pm cut-off for arraignments on the same day. Anyone arrested in DC after 12:00pm has to wait until the next day to be scheduled on the arraignment docket either in Court Room C-8 or C-10 at DC Superior Court. Since DC does not have bail, defendants are usually held until they are arraigned and D.C. law requires that they be arraigned within 24 hours. The arraignment Judge makes the determination of whether the defendant is a serious risk to public safety or flight risk and the defendant will either be incarcerated pending trial or released under Pretrial Services Supervision.

    Also, you mentioned that the Central Cellblock is operated by the D.C. Police. The Central Cellblock is operated by the United States Marshal Service, which was designated by the National Capital Revitalization Act of 1997 to serve the functions of Sheriff for the District of Columbia. Arresting authorities transfer custody of defendants to the US Marshal Service once they are transported to DC Superior Court.

  • All you Gays and Lesbians out there cutting your monthly checks to HRC need to redirect that money to GetEqual. GetEqual did more in one day to forward our movement than HRC has accomplished in the last 20 years.

  • Let me get this straight. Phil Attey – self-described “netroots organizing pioneer”, former HRC staffer, former chair of Obama Metro Pride-DC, and founder of blackmailing website ChurchOuting.org – attends an HRC rally that evolves into attention-grabbing criticism of President Obama’s inept presidency. I’m sure Attey’s holier-than-thou quote will win stamps of approval from the HRC and White House. Free tickets to this year’s HRC fundraiser, baby!

  • Erich Riesenberg

    The HRC is a disgrace.

  • The comments by Phil Atty, who apparently is a former HRC staffer were disgusting, Choi is a hero to the Gay Community. I understand that HRC has it’s events, and it’s way of doing things. But the organization in the last few years seems to spend far more time attacking other gay organizations for doing anything without checking with HRC first. They attacked the march on Washington a few months ago, said marches were ineffective, etc… but now they are planning a march for May 11th, their supporters also attacked the Rally after, but when Kathy Griffin wants to come to DC they are ready to have a rally. HRC has told the community to be quiet, they earlier told the community we should not complain about anything until 2017, and then we could look back and see if there was something to complain about. Well HRC, you’ve had decades and over 50 million of our dollars and you’ve done nothing for us. In one Shot, Choi got more publicity and more news coverage then you’ve gotten us in 10 years. So take your smug nasty attitude and go back to planning your black tie gala’s. Other people will get this done without your namecalling.

  • The real question is why it has taken the LGBT community
    – especially Blacks, Latinos, Asians, women, bisexuals,
    transgenders, people with disabilities and the truly poor and working class — so long to wake up to the reality that is the Human Rights CHAMPAGNE Fund.

    Since its founding, there are few if any victories that HRC can claim to its name. While HRC demands that our adversaries such as NOM reveal their contributors which has been found to be a violation of the 1st Amendment, HRC has steadfastly refused to open up its books to the community so that we could see who holds the purse strings and sets organization and Movement priorities.

    Perhaps there was a time when HRC could have argued that
    privacy demands confidentiality, but that time has long past. In any case, the organization can always black out the name and simply provide a general description of any donor who wished to remain anonymous.

    HRC should also provide a breakdown of its officers and staff by race, religion, ethnicity, gender, identity, ability and age so that the entire community has an opportunity to discern the degree to which we are represented in terms of our diversity.

    Joe Solomnese has made numerous inaccurate statements such as the political versus the personal significance of coming out. Under his leadership, HRC hijacked the No on Prop 8 campaign. Though we probably would have lost in any event, that does not change the fact that the situation was badly mishandled a/w/a others.

    I find it ironic that the LGBT Movement distinguishes itself as a “grassroots” movement from the antiwar, Black Civil Rights and feminist movements.

    National antiwar movement organizations such as SDS, national Black Civil Rights movement organizations such as the NAACP and national feminist organizations such as NOW all had chapters in virtually every state and many ciities. Neither HRC, NGLTF, LLDF or any other national LGBT organization has branches anywhere.

    The single issue National Abortion Rights Action League had a national headquarters to oversee the state-by-state legislative campaign which was eventually and unfortunately hijacked by a federal court decision which has led to nothing but headaches. All of the various state Same Sex Marriage organizations should be similarly united under a national umbrella organization.

  • Lt. Choi is a disgrace to his country and to the uniform he wears. Now the Army can throw the book at him for conduct unbecoming, incitement of civil disobedience, failure to obey a lawful order and a few others they will charge him with.

    This man is far from a hero, he has broken the very oath he took when joining up. His actions made a clear point on the side of NOT appealing DADT.

    They want it repealed ok…I say go ahead and go back to the prior system of not allowing gays and lesbians to serve under any circumstances.

    Time to dishorably discharge this gay rights poster child.

    • What is your justification for stating that his actions support keeping gays out of the military or keeping them silent? Where is the logic in saying “I’m going to discriminate against you, and if you don’t like it and speak up against it, you’re giving me justification for discriminating against you”? There is none!

  • I hope there’s enough disgusting gays to protect our country when a large portion of the straight guys who don’t want this abomination shoved down their throats decide its time to get out. But I guess no one cares about the rights of straight people or Christians. I don’t hate gay people but I do feel that according to the Bible they are wrong and I don’t think I nor my family should be forced into accepting something that we don’t agree with. I mean how will they even manage a military like that. Men and Women are kept separate in situations where sexual modesty is important to maintain a professional working environment. How will that happen if dadt is repealed?

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