A gay rights
group planning to go to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis,
Md., to protest the military's ban on openly gay service
members has been told protesters will be arrested if
they step on campus.
The gay rights group Soulforce planned to bring
about 60 protesters to the gates of the academy
Friday, with the goal of getting inside and talking to
midshipmen about the military's stance on gay service members.
Naval Academy officials told the Lynchburg, Va.,
group it won't be allowed on campus, calling the
protest a "disruption." "Our policy is to decline any
special interest groups from coming aboard the academy
to advocate their own causes, business interests and advance
personal agendas," academy spokesman Cmdr. Rod Gibbons said
in a statement.
Soulforce vowed to walk on campus anyway,
setting up a possible showdown. "If they don't let us
on campus, some of us will get arrested," said Jacob
Reitan, director of Equality Ride, part of Soulforce. "The
gay and lesbian community has to show the severity of 'don't
ask, don't tell,'" Reitan told The [Annapolis]
Capital. "We are going to come on campus; we
are going to walk in...like any normal visitor."
Soulforce organizers say they wrote to the Naval
Academy's superintendent, Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt,
on August 18, asking to meet with him, and again on
October 10, announcing their intent to enter the
campus and discuss gay rights with midshipmen and professors.
Capt. Helen F. Dunn, deputy superintendent and
chief of staff, responded to last week's letter,
writing, "Be advised that accessing the academy
grounds for the purpose of protesting or engaging
midshipmen, faculty, and staff may subject you to
arrest and prosecution by the appropriate federal authorities."
Reitan said the gay rights group has a city
permit to gather outside the academy's gates and that
protesters will attempt to walk inside at lunchtime.
Citing security concerns, an academy spokesman declined to
say if police will be on hand for the event.
One of the protesters will be Tommie Watkins, a
former midshipman now living in Florida. Watkins was
expelled from the Naval Academy in 1997 after being
outed as gay. Watkins published a book this month, Living
Out Loud, and said there are more closeted gay
and lesbian midshipmen. "I am just one case of many,"
Watkins told the newspaper.
The protest is part of a series of Equality Ride
events that Soulforce plans to organize at colleges
and universities that expel students who are openly
gay. The group also plans protests at the Air Force Academy,
West Point, and the Coast Guard Academy. (AP)