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Gay rights group
told it can't protest at U.S. Naval Academy

Gay rights group
told it can't protest at U.S. Naval Academy

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)

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