As Lt. Dan Choi and about 100 LGBT activists staged a “don’t ask, don’t tell” protest Sunday afternoon across the street from the White House, six plain-clothed civilians chained themselves to the White House gates.
Choi, who has twice been arrested after handcuffing himself to the White House gates and has now been court ordered not to enter a certain perimeter around the White House, was joined by a handful of other speakers, including former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, Servicemembers United executive director Alex Nicholson, and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network executive director Aubrey Sarvis.
The protest came on the heels of a letter leaked late Friday afternoon in which Department of Defense secretary Robert Gates urged House Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton “in the strongest possible terms” to delay legislative action on repeal until the Pentagon completes its assessment of how to implement repeal.
“Most journalists had turned off their computers and were safely into happy hour when the White House issued a statement,” Sarvis told the protesters Sunday.
Though the White House statement said President Barack Obama’s commitment to repeal was “unequivocal,” Sarvis called the statement “nothing if not equivocal.”
“There is a stark and not very flattering contrast here between President Obama, who follows his military, and President Truman, whose military followed him,” said Sarvis.
Dean thanked the crowd for standing up for what’s right and praised Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan for showing leadership on the issue.
“Carl Levin is a hero because he has the votes to tack on to the Defense authorization bill,” said Dean, “the end of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ That is the right thing to do for America and I want to thank Senator Levin for his courage.”
According to multiple lobbyists working on repeal, Levin is actually about one to three votes away from securing the votes to attach a repeal measure. But some advocates worried that Friday’s letter from secretary Gates may have stymied momentum on the vote drive.
Asked if Levin should push ahead on repeal despite the letter from Gates, Dean said he should as long as he has the votes.
“Senator Levin’s amendment, in fact, does what the secretary asked for in the secretary’s testimony,” Dean said. “There is a schedule for implementation ... I think there’s about a year for implementation, so the implementation is gradual, which is what the secretary asked for.”
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Watch Dan Choi on The Advocate: On Air, below.
“He said he thought we had a 30 to 40 percent shot of repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ left this year,” Nicholson said. “You know why it’s not 60 to 80 percent? Because they don’t support us right now,” he added, pointing at the White House as the crowd cheered.
The demonstration was organized by the groups GetEqual, Queer Rising, and Talk about Equality. As the rally continued, Anne Tischer, Nora Camp, Alan Bounville, Natasha Dillon, Iana Dibona, and Mark Reed quietly handcuffed themselves to the White House gates. Once the throng of protesters noticed, they directed their chants at the White House.
The crowd grew to about 150 as people shouted, “We will not ... disappear. We'll remember ... in November” and waved signs reading, “Obama, Keep Your Promises,” and “Mr. Obama, What’s The Hold Up?”
One of the speakers at the rally, Robin Chaurasiya, said she had skipped classes when she was still a college student so that she could intern 20 hours a week at the office of then-senator Barack Obama.
“Why?” Chaurasiya said. “Because you were, in my mind, the face of ‘change’ for America.”
At a brown bag lunch for interns of the senator, she had asked Obama to share his best advice for success. “Always fight for what you believe in, never compromise your values, and you’ll be successful,” Obama told them.
“Well, Mr. President,” she continued on Sunday, “it is May 2, 2010, exactly one and a half years after your election, during which you promised to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ Look at us — we are all here, fighting for our beliefs, unwilling to compromise our values. But President Obama, only you can make us successful.”