WASHINGTON -- Lt. Dan Choi along with five other GLBT discharged veterans handcuffed themselves to the White House gates on Tuesday to demand that President Obama keep his promise to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) this year.
The other protesters were Capt. Jim Pietrangelo II, Petty Officer Larry Whitt, Petty Officer Autumn Sandeen of San Diego, Cadet Mara Boyd and Airman Victor Price.
The vets said they are concerned about mounting signs that the president is wavering on his promise to push for repeal this year.
All six vets -- who were wearing their military uniforms -- were arrested as the crowd chanted "Shame!" at the police.
Police then closed Lafayette Park to the public and the media, something few in the crowd had ever witnessed. The White House is, after all, the People's House. And Lafayette Park, directly across from the White House, is popular with tourists for its grand vistas overlooking the White House.
Today’s action comes one month after Choi and Pietrangelo were arrested for a similar DADT protest at the White House in which they handcuffed themselves to the gates for a period of an hour, while hundreds of protesters looked on.
The new GLBT activist group GetEQUAL coordinated both today’s action, and last month’s civil disobedience.
“We are handcuffing ourselves to the White House gates once again to demand that President Obama show leadership on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. If the president were serious about keeping his promise to repeal this year, he would put the repeal language in his Defense Authorization budget,” Choi said.
“The president gave us an order at the Human Rights Campaign dinner to keep pressure on him and we will continue to return to the White House, in larger numbers, until the president keeps his promise to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell this year.”
Amid growing signs that the White House is wavering on its commitment to repeal DADT this year, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., called on the president last month to publicly state his desire to repeal DADT this year. Obama has refused to respond, prompting Frank to say last week that he is disappointed and frustrated with the Obama administration’s silence on DADT.
At this point, the president’s refusal to call for repeal this year is a problem, Frank said, saying that the president’s silence is now costing votes in the Congress.
Cpl. Evelyn Thomas also participated in today’s protest.
“A few weeks ago I saw Lt. Dan Choi take dramatic action at the White House and it made me realize that I needed to do something to stand up for all the black female soldiers who have been discharged under DADT. Many people don't know that we black women are discharged disproportionately more than others under DADT,” she said.
GetEQUAL organizers called on the public to join the soldiers in their quest at: http://GetEQUAL.org/GetDADT
Today's activities come a day after GetEQUAL activists interrupted President Obama’s speech at a fundraiser in Los Angeles for Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Who’s who in today’s action
Lt. Dan Choi served as an infantry officer with the Army in Iraq in 2006-07. Choi graduated from West Point and is fluent in Arabic. In June 2008, he transferred from active duty Army to the New York National Guard. After coming out on “The Rachel Maddow Show” in March 2009, he was notified that the Army had begun discharge proceedings against him. Choi is a founding member of KnightsOut, an organization of West Point alumni that advocates for the rights of gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, and he speaks frequently in support of rights for GLBT members of the military.
Capt. Jim Pietrangelo II, a former infantryman and lawyer originally from Ohio, served in the Army until he was discharged in 2004 under the DADT policy. Pietrangelo fought in Iraq in 1991 as an infantryman and returned as a JAG officer for the second Iraq War. As he was readying for a third combat tour, he was honorably discharged for declaring he was gay. Pietrangelo sued the government, charging that the policy was unconstitutional. He appealed to the Supreme Court, but in June 2009, the Supreme Court rejected the case and refused to intervene at the request of the Obama Administration.
Petty Officer Larry Whitt was born in Barnwell, S.C., and grew up in Florida. Fulfilling a lifelong goal, Whitt joined the Navy after high school and served for 12 years. He received the Outstanding Sailor Award aboard the USS Compass Island, was a Sailor of the Month aboard the USS Caloosahatchee, and retired as a Petty Officer First Class. He was also stationed with the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pentagon, and received a Joint Service Commendation Medal, two Good Conduct Medals, and a Navy Expeditionary Medal. Whitt was honorably discharged in October 1982, after he requested discharge for fear of being turned in for being gay. Currently, he is the Color Guard coordinator for the Florida Gold Coast Chapter of American Veterans for Equal Rights in Ft. Lauderdale.
Petty Officer Autumn Sandeen was born in Northridge, Calif., and raised in Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley. Sandeen joined the United States Navy in 1980 as a Fire Controlman. She served on two Guided Missile Fast Frigates as a Mark 92 Fire Control System technician and one Guided Missile Fast Frigate as a Mark 15 Close-In Weapons System technician. Her last ship was the Third Fleet Command Ship, the USS Coronado, where she served as a Mark 15 Close-In Weapons System technician from 1996 to 2000. She retired after 20 years as Fire Controlman First Class. At the end of 1999 and beginning of 2000, Sandeen was sexually harassed by a subordinate and Executive Officer for being perceived as an effeminate gay male. After retiring from the U.S. Navy, she was awarded a Veteran's Administration Service Connected Disability rating. She began transitioning as a male-to-female transsexual on February 6, 2003. As a transgender activist, she has worked with many transgender advocacy organizations. She is currently the transgender chair of DOD FedGlobe, and she writes for the blog Pam's House Blend.
Cadet Mara Boyd, originally from and currently residing in Ann Arbor, Mich., completed three years in the Air Force ROTC program at the University of Colorado at Boulder and graduated in the top 10 percent of her basic training class before she came out as a lesbian to her commander in the fall of 2002 and was honorably discharged under the DADT policy in June 2003. Before she came out, Boyd held the position in her cadet detachment of Cadet Captain, Character Development Officer, having been nominated by the officer cadre and cadet corps to handle the character development and moral guidance of the entire detachment. Boyd's ROTC scholarship, which had paid for two years of nonresident tuition, was revoked upon her discharge, and the government demanded that she repay her scholarships and book stipends. Boyd ended up with $30,000 of tuition bills to pay. Boyd returned to UC Boulder and completed her degree, but she is still paying back the scholarship debt.
Airman Victor Price, originally from Asheboro, N.C., served as a Bioenvironmental Engineering Specialist with the Air Force. During his tour, he obtained a BA in business marketing at Delaware State. A Senior Airman, Price was honorably discharged in 2000 under DADT.
Cpl. Evelyn Thomas, who was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Texas, joined the Army National Guard and then the Marine Corps. She served at Camp Pendleton for four years until another Marine found a letter in her locker about her relationship with a woman. She was then honorably discharged in 1991. In October 2009, Thomas founded a ministry for gays in the military who fear they may be discharged for speaking openly to base chaplains about their sexuality. The Sanctuary Project Veterans is a ministry of Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad, CA, and it provides a safe haven, support, legal advice and services for soldiers harassed due to the DADT policy.