WASHINGTON – Iraq war veteran Lt. Dan Choi and two other “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) protesters were arrested today after chaining themselves to the front gate of the White House.
An estimated 150 protesters shouted “Hey, hey, ho, ho. 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell' has got to go.”
Former Capt. James Pietrangelo II was arrested after chaining himself to the gate. California activist Robin McGehee was also hauled off to jail.
The arrests for participating in a non-violent act of civil disobedience at the White House have angered the LGBT community nationwide, and further protests are being hastily planned across the U.S. after District of Columbia police announced that they were not releasing the arrested protesters until their court date tomorrow. Under most circumstances, non-violent political protesters are immediately released after paying a fine.
San Diegans will protest at 6 tonight at the Hall of Justice, Broadway and State streets in downtown, and demand the release of those arrested. The rally is part of a viral civil-rights protest called "Let Our People Go, Take a Stand on DADT." Backers include GetEQUAL, Restore Equality 2010 and Empowering Spirits Foundation.
“Numerous polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans are against DADT. And though President Obama addressed this issue in his State of the Union address, military leaders have called for a year-long review of how to implement a change,” said A. Latham Staples, president and CEO of Empowering Spirits Foundation. “Enough it enough though. Soldiers of varying sexual orientations are risking their lives abroad at this very moment. It’s time the Obama administration and our representatives in Congress take immediate action to repeal this discriminatory measure.”
Other California protests against DADT are also scheduled tonight in Los Angeles, Fresno, Sacramento and San Francisco.
Choi - who will be given the 2010 Harvey Milk Civil Rights Award at the second annual Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast in San Diego – has become one of the leading opponents of the military’s DADT policy preventing gays and lesbians from serving openly.
Choi, 29, was an Arab linguist in the Army – a crucial need for the military fighting in Iraq – when he was discharged for being gay.
Pietrangelo was a plaintiff in the DADT case that was turned down by the U.S. Supreme Court last year. He was asking the high court to rule that the DADT policy was unconstitutional.
The White House, meanwhile, said it was unaware that the protest had been planned and that President Barack Obama had no plans to meet with the group.
The chaining incident and arrests overshadowed another DADT protest rally orchestrated by “My Life on the D-List” star Kathy Griffin and the Human Rights Campaign. Choi also appeared at that rally that attracted more than 1,000 people.
Griffin, who was not involved in the protest at the White House gate, later tweeted this:
“It was my honor 2 share th podium w Lt Dan Choi today. I understand he’s been arrested in front of the White House. I did that dude! Balls!”
Griffin came under fire this week for her catty comments about a Southern senator being a closet queen. Critics said Griffin’s comments were self-serving, used for shock value and to promote herself and her show, while damaging the effort to repeal DADT.
For his part, Choi may have committed career suicide. His military discharge is still under review and appeal, and now this arrest will likely damage his case. Pietrangelo has already been discharged, so his arrest was more symbolic.
Before chaining himself to the gate, Choi read the following statement to the protesters and the media:
“Hello. My name is Lt. Dan Choi. I am being discharged from the US Army because I am gay and dared to say it out loud.
Today, I am here on a mission with Capt. Jim Pietrangelo, and we are asking you all to join us. We’re calling you to action because we are at a turning point — a moment in time where talk is no longer enough, and action is required.
Equality is not going to happen by itself.
You have been told that the President has a plan. But Congressman Barney Frank confirmed to us this week that the President still is not fully committed to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell this year.
And if we don’t seize this moment it may not happen for a very long time.
Some may tell you that I am one of the lucky ones. I have been welcomed back by my unit with open arms. And it would be easy for me to stay quiet and hope that change will happen.
But what I was taught at West Point and learned in war is — hope is not a strategy. As officers, James and I both find it a dereliction of our moral duty to remain silent while thousands of our brothers and sister are not allowed to serve openly and honestly.
Capt. Pietrangelo was honorably discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2004 and I will be subject to the same shortly. As officers we are here today fighting for those in the ranks, and we need our Commander in Chief to do the same.
Our fight is not here at Freedom Plaza, it is at the White House. We are walking to the White House right now to send the President a message. So … take out your cell phones and your cameras. Document this moment. Join us as together — we make history.”
Today’s nationwide actions are coordinated by GetEQUAL, whose mission is to create a movement of everyday people—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and straight—who are dedicated to bringing about full legal and social equality.