July 28, 2010 at 1:05 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
8 arrested in U.S. Capitol protest over ENDA

Eight people were arrested Wednesday during a protest in the U.S. Capitol building rotunda. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Eight people were arrested Wednesday during a protest in the U.S. Capitol building rotunda urging U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to take action on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Donned with black shirts, demonstrators affiliated with the activist group GetEqual held a sit-in protest and chanted “Vote ENDA Now!” as officers with the Capitol Police handcuffed them and took them away.

Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, a spokesperson for Capitol Police, said the protesters were arrested on the misdemeanor charge of demonstrating in the U.S. Capitol and taken to Capitol Police Headquarters.

Prior to the action, demonstrators had been participating in a tour of the U.S. Capitol. When the tour reached the Rotunda, protesters broke away and formed a group in the center of the room while holding up signs reading “Vote on ENDA” and “Speaker Pelosi: This is Your Reminder.”

Surrounded by statues of deceased presidents and paintings of iconic moments in early U.S. history, demonstrators dropped to the floor and crouched while chanting the GetEqual refrain, “I am somebody and I deserve full equality!”

Those on other tours of the U.S. Capitol looked upon the protesters with jaws dropped and took photos with their iPhones. One tour guide said, “Just don’t talk to them,” as she guided the visitors through the Rotunda.

Capitol Hill police closed the rotunda, preventing the public, staff, other tours and the press from accessing the room. The press was able to witness the events as they took place from an adjoining hallway.

“Those people are jerks; they’re ruining our tour,” one tour guide remarked about the protesters after he was blocked from entering the room.

Heather Cronk, managing director for GetEqual, said the protest was intended to send “not only a direct response, but a symbolic response to Speaker Pelosi” and to follow-up on an earlier protest urging Pelosi to take action.

“In March, when we were in her office, we told her we would come back if she didn’t bring ENDA to the floor,” Cronk said. “So, we’re making good on our promises and we’re hoping that she will as well.”

Cronk said GetEqual is targeting the speaker because of her power to take the bill out of committee and bring it up for a floor vote.

“We need to know who’s with us and who’s against us in the House, so we’re just asking for a vote on the bill,” Cronk said. “We know we have the votes in the House.  So we’re hoping that she can get it through the House, and then it’s up to us to help create the political will to get it through the Senate.”

Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said ENDA remains “a top priority” for the speaker, but said moving the bill before legislative action on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is complete “jeopardizes both initiatives.”

Pelosi has said a House vote on ENDA wouldn’t take place until legislative work on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is complete — most recently at the Netroots Nation conference in Nevada.

“I can’t give you a time,” she said, according to a transcript of her remarks. “But I can tell you that it is a priority and it had been our hope to do it this year. We have to finish ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and hopefully we can do both this year.”

The protesters who were arrested were Orelia Busch of D.C.; Charles Butler of D.C.; Sean Carlson of Hyattsville, Md.; Shannon Cuttle of D.C.; Robert Diesu of D.C.; Erika Knepp of Edgewater, Md.; David McElhatton of San Francisco, Calif.; and Zack Rosen of D.C.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • Call your U.S. Senators and your member of the House of Representatives at 202-224-3121. Let them know that you are calling as one of their constituents, urging them to co-sponsor and vote for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) now. Get supportive friends and family to call too. Keep doing this until ENDA is voted on and passed THIS YEAR.

    If you live in DC and don’t have senators, get your friends & family who live in the other states to make calls. If you live in Virginia, thank Sen. Webb for becoming a co-sponsor of ENDA and urge him to push the bill forward. Call Sen. Warner and ask why he hasn’t yet co-sponsored ENDA and urge him to.

    202-224-3121. Call Congress. Pass ENDA.

  • Those are my children standing just to the left of your protestor. I’d like to thank you idiots for ruining our visit to the Rotunda, and the learning experience for my children. Even if I supported your cause (and I do), doing this made me not want anything to do with your cause. You must think how your actions are going to resonate with people before doing something dumb.

    • You bring your kids to the DC and have a chance to use the protest to illustrate a civics lesson and the greatness of America which allows such protests while so many other countries do not. You’re the idiot if you squandered the opportunity to turn it into a learning experience. Gay Americans have as much right to protest for justice as much as anyone else. It’s Washington DC and protests happen all the time and can happen anywhere. Where do you leave in a cave to not realize that? No matter what gay people do someone is always going to dislike it. Being gay is nothing to be ashame of either. Gay people don’t have to hide themselves just because it makes you uncomfortable. Your kids will be exposed to gay people in life sooner or later. They’ll survive and maybe be better off for it!

      • El Dorado, you are a complete moron. This is what’s wrong with society, some people think there plight is more important than everyone else. This is nothing more that childlike selfishness. There were other protests going on outside tha capitol building, and that’s fine. But apparently protesting outside where the news cameras were wasn’t good enough they had to sneak in and make all those present angry. You forget one important rule in swaying one to side with you, don’t piss them off in doing so. At no time did I say you don’t have the right to protest because you are gay, protest all you want. And ” No matter what gay people do, someone is going to dislike it”, this has nothing to do with being gay or not. Gay has nothing to do with it, if they were anti-abortion, anti-whale hunting, pro-choice Muslims I would be just as angry. If you are gay, be gay and be happy with yourself, enjoy your life. As for “My children being exposed to gay people sooner or later”. I’m sure, actually certain they have been, and guess what…..we don’t ask, or judge anyone based on their life choices. You are who you are be happy with yourself, you seem to be a little paranoid and judgemental without knowing me, or my children. Did you even read my whole post, or just jump to the parts you wanted to use to make you angry. I support your cause, you just chose the wrong way to forward it.

  • This is what happens when you try and cram too many priorities through at once. The strategy with passing the Hate Crimes Act was that came first with no competing pro-gay legislation. Stupidly, lifting DADT came up first when ENDA is the priority as it protects more people in the community than lifting DADT would.
    The Dems squnandered too much time last year only focusing on healthcare at the expense of everything else. Had they voted on it last year, we may have had the momentum to get it into law this year.

    I am sick of Nancy Pelosi’s empty promises. I used to be a big fan of hers but my patience has waned. Get the job done dammit. Put ENDA up for a vote and let the chips fall as they may. The chances of getting ENDA passed after the November elections is likely for more slim than they are now. If the GOP gets control the legislation will go nowhere and if they stay in control until Obama leaves office and a GOP a-hole takes his place, you won’t so progress for countless years. The opportunity was last year and sadly it was wasted!

  • There is STILL the opportunity to get ENDA passed this year if we can get every potential ENDA supporter to call Congress at 202-224-3121 and urge our senators and representatives to co-sponsor and vote for ENDA now while they have the chance!

    I share the frustration so many of us in our community feel. And it seems to me that the most productive way to put that frustration to good use is to call and lobby and meet with our representatives and Senators who are not yet ENDA co-sponsors — but who could be. It worked with Sen. Jim Webb. If enough of us call and write and e-mail, then even if the vote doesn’t occur in September as may be preferable, we may yet build momentum for a vote to occur immediately following the November elections.

    Such a vote — during a lame duck session of Congress — may actually get ENDA passed if enough of us have let our senators and representatives hear our support for the bill over the coming weeks. The senators and representatives who want to be supportive but are nervous about the elections will have nothing left to be nervous about. And we have the power over the next few weeks to help them see that ENDA is a broadly supported commonsense bill backed by Americans of all faiths and political stripes. Immediately after the election in a lame duck session, regardless of whether they have won or lost their races, more senators and representatives may feel free to vote their conscience, stand on the right side of history, and pass ENDA while they have the chance before a new Congress takes over.

    So we just need to keep organizing and getting every reasonable person we know, everyone we care about, everyone who cares about us, to call (or write or e-mail or meet with) their Senators and Representative in Congress at 202-224-3121 and tell them to pass ENDA this year.

    We can either keep protesting those in Congress who already have gone on record with their support for equality (by co-sponsoring ENDA), or we can focus our energies on those who are potential supporters and who can put us over the top. I think everyone in Congress need to hear from us — but particularly the senators and representatives of both parties who have yet to declare for ENDA but are obtainable.

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