Local gays joined in the celebration before the White House late Sunday after news broke that the U.S. military had killed long-pursued terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and taken his body into custody.
On Sunday, President Obama announced that after a firefight in Abbottabad, Pakistan, U.S. forces had killed bin Laden, founder of the international terrorist group al-Qaeda, which was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and other terrorist attacks on the United States and allies.
“For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda’s leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies,” Obama said. “The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.”
Even before Obama’s announcement concluded, an estimated 2,500 people started gathering before the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue — many waiving American flags and draping them over the shoulders as others chanted “U-S-A! U-S-A!” — to commemorate the U.S. victory in the war on terrorism.
Greg Taylor, 25 and a gay D.C. resident, said he came to the White House because was “super excited” to learn bin Laden was killed after U.S. officials had been searching for him for more than 10 years.
“We wanted to celebrate with our fellow Americans and show our patriotism,” Taylor said. “We were really pumped. We were kind of getting tired and ready to go to bed, but then we got so excited, and now we’re awake and we just want to sing the National Anthem.”
David Grant, 23 and a gay D.C. resident, said the death of bin Laden at the hands of U.S. forces inspired a sense of unity that has been lacking for some time.
“We can finally unite around something after having been opposed to each other these few years,” Grant said. “I wanted to celebrate with our president. It feels great because I feel we’ve been united for the first time in a very long time.”
Smoke filled the night air as some people who attended the celebration waived sparklers. One person who took part held up a sign reading, “Osama bin Later: Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.”
Other participants climbed into the trees before the White House and in Lafayette Park where they shouted cheers and waived flags. A shirtless male participant climbed onto a streetlight before the White House and performed a set of chin-ups as the crowd cheered.
Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said he wanted to join the celebration to express the sense of great joy that he felt now that a major chapter in the war on terrorism had concluded.
“I think there’s a lot of symbolic significance in this for a lot of people, and so there’s a lot of relief and jubilation that I personally felt and I think a lot of people were sharing,” Nicholson said.
Upon arrival at the gathering, Nicholson distributed an armful of the American flags that Servicemembers United had deposited in November 2007 along the National Mall to honor the then-12,000 service members who had been discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“We just started passing them out to complete strangers out there who were celebrating and grabbing anything with American flag colors or stars and stripes that they could find,” Nicholson said. “We literally saw tons of them on TV being waived in front of the White House.”
Nicholson said he doesn’t think the feelings of gay service members following the death of bin Laden differ much from those of straight service members because both had been working for the terrorist leader’s demise.
“Everybody’s shedding their identifying characteristics — like being gay — and just showing solidarity with some common American identity,” Nicholson said.
Political observers are already predicting that bin Laden’s death will bolster the Obama’s chances for re-election in 2012 — and perhaps cement his chances for electoral victory.
Lane Hudson, a gay D.C. Democratic activist, said Obama’s victory will likely enable him to win re-election as well as pursue other items on his agenda.
“Attaining the elusive goal of killing bin Laden changes the game and empowers the president in an entirely new way,” Hudson said. “He is almost assured of re-election and now we will find out how he will use his newfound political capital.”