By Kerry Eleveld
Originally published on Advocate.com October 11 2010 4:05 PM ET
See more photos of the protest below.
A group of LGBT equality activists working to end “don’t ask, don’t tell” launched an elaborate protest early Monday evening as President Barack Obama attended a private Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fund-raiser in Miami at the home of NBA star Alonzo Mourning.
As the president headed toward Mourning’s Coconut Grove residence, where donors had paid as much as $5,000 and $18,000 per person to see him, members of GetEqual, a national LGBT rights organization, along with local activists lined the street holding four 10-foot signs that read “End the Discharges Now” and “We’ll Give When We GetEQUAL” – a reference to the group’s recent campaign encouraging people not to donate money to either the Democratic or Republican parties or their campaign committees until the president signs an executive order immediately stopping the discharges.
The group tipped off reporters and photographers from the Associated Press and the local NBC affiliate, who were stationed at the entrance of Mourning’s residence at the exclusive Coral Gables Estates on Alveda Parkway.
Since Mourning's mansion abuts the bay, GetEqual also launched three boats containing activists equipped with signs and bullhorns, which they used to shout chants during president's speech. Additionally, they released into the air four "cloud buster" balloons with 10-foot-long banners reading
"GetEQUAL.org" that had been tethered to the sides of the boats.
Several news crews from local stations and a Miami Herald reporter accompanied the fleet, which was out for about 15-20 minutes, according to a GetEqual spokesman before being surrounded by the Coast Guard and Miami Dade police boats and then escorted away.
"The sirens were audible," said Brad Luna of GetEqual, who was monitoring events from the shore. Luna was listening to a scanner and said, "It was all over the Coast Guard scanner, so they certainly made a splash out there."
The mayhem was noticeable but slightly less disruptive from the event — a cocktail party that took place in an outdoor tent. From the White House pool report:
"As he is speaking, air horns can be heard across the bay, and pool is told by a GetEQUAL spokesman that they are activists protesting the administration on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Appear to have several small boats, at one point pool can hear some yelling. Some members of the audience look over but noise is not loud enough to disrupt and POTUS continues uninterrupted."
Toward the end of Obama's first speech at the fund-raiser, the pool report added, "Pool is told the Miami Dade police have circled the GetEQUAL activists' boats and sirens can be heard." The president then went on to make another speech to an even smaller, more intimate group, that was seated for dinner inside another tent.
GetEqual kicked off the protest earlier in the day by launching a weather balloon from which a GetEqual banner was hung, and the balloon was set adrift toward the residence.
Attempts were also made to purchase tickets for the event at $5,000 per person for local activist Itzel Diaz and Anthony Woods, a 30-year-old California resident and recent congressional candidate who was honorably discharged under the DADT policy in 2008. The two had submitted their check to the DCCC on Friday and were informed Monday morning that they had been denied access to the event.
Woods said he believed he was turned away because he had been discharged.
"I think they were trying to avoid any incident where 'don't ask, don't tell' could be brought up. I think there was a concern that he would be pressed on the issue," said Woods, adding that he had not been given any official reason.
But a DCCC spokesperson disputed that any exchange of money had taken place.
"Ms. Diaz called on Friday and said she may be interested in attending the event with a guest," Ryan Rudominer said. "However, Ms. Diaz did not confirm attendance, payment was not submitted, and no information was provided for vetting."
The protest was live blogged by members of GetEqual at FiredogLake.com and Gay.Americablog.com.