Editor’s note: video from this protest is available on the Blade’s main homepage; scroll down to find it on the left side.
Thirteen activists were arrested Monday afternoon for chaining themselves to the White House gates in protest over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and what they perceive as President Obama’s lack of action in stopping the discharges of gay, lesbian and bisexual members of the U.S. armed forces.
The protesters were affiliated with GetEQUAL, a group that’s organized acts of civil disobedience throughout the country over LGBT issues. Among the protesters were Lt. Dan Choi, a gay Iraq war veteran who was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and Robin McGehee, co-founder and director of GetEQUAL.
In a statement, GetEQUAL touted how three generations of LGBT activists were arrested as a result of the action. Others who were arrested include former U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Justin Elzie, who’s gay and the first Marine discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 1993, as well as Michael Bedwell, a long-time advocate of LGBT rights and open service in the U.S. military.
The protesters superglued their handcuff locks, and, despite repeated warnings from U.S. Park Police, didn’t remove themselves from the White House fence. As police forcibly removed the activists, they dragged their feet as they were hauled into a paddy wagon. It took five police officers to remove Choi from the fence, hand-cuff him and drag him to the van.
After their arrest, the protesters were taken to Anacostia Park Station. The charges and penalties they’re facing as a result of their arrest weren’t immediately known.
As the protesters were chained to the White House fence, Choi called on President Obama to act on his promise to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“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 of those with platforms and there is a silent homophobia for those who purport to be our friends and do nothing,” Choi said. “Loud homophobia and silent homophobia have the same result. They must be combatted and this is what we intend to do today.”
While the protesters were chained to the White House fence, they chanted the often-used GetEQUAL refrain of “I am … somebody … and I deserve … full equality.” The protesters also added a new refrain, “Barack Obama … Silent Homophobia!”
Army Capt. Jim Pietrangelo II, who previously was arrested for chaining himself to the White House, led the chants of the protesters with a bullhorn from Lafayette Park.
“Why are these courageous heroes having to be arrested now?” he shouted. “Mr. President, could you follow the lead of these brave Americans and stop ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’”?
Pietrangelo called on Obama to issue an executive order to stop the discharges under the military’s gay ban.
In statement, Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, responded to the protest and said Obama is committed to legislative repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“As we have said repeatedly, the president remains committed to a legislative repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” Inouye said. “The White House continues to work with Congress towards achieving that comprehensive and lasting solution.”
Autumn Sandeen, a transgender activist and Navy veteran who was among the 13 people arrested, told the Blade prior to the protest that she participated to bring more attention to the issue of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and to show transgender solidarity with gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans.
“Repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ will not affect transgender people one bit,” she said. “Gay, lesbian and bisexual people will be able to serve openly, but transgender people will not. But I’m part of a broader community: the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.”
Sandeen said putting pressure on the White House could push President Obama to move forward with advancing an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” She recalled similar protests in the spring prompted the administration to endorse a repeal compromise passed by the U.S. House.
“What we hope to do is put pressure on the White House and the president, President Obama, to fulfill the promise to actually put pressure on the Senate to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” she said.