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arrested at last stop on Equality Ride

arrested at last stop on Equality Ride


Twenty-one gay rights activists--participants in the cross-country Equality Ride--were arrested Wednesday on the grounds of the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., after staging a protest against the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't ask" policy regarding gay service members.

Twenty-one gay rights activists were arrested Wednesday after staging a protest against the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on the grounds of the U.S. Military Academy. The West Point, N.Y., stop was the last on a 20-stop cross-country tour of conservative Christian and military colleges that Soulforce Equality Ride organizers say discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in their admissions policies.

Soulforce Equality Riders have been arrested previously at five campuses. Ten members were handcuffed and charged with disorderly conduct after demonstrating April 14 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

On Wednesday, about 50 protesters arrived on two buses at the gate that separates the storied academy from the village of Highland Falls. The 21 who were arrested entered campus grounds and were told they risked arrest if they continued to try to protest inside the post. After several trips through the gate, they were briefly detained by military police and issued citations for entry to military property for unlawful purposes, a misdemeanor.

After they were escorted off the Hudson River campus, they rejoined other demonstrators outside the gate, where they held silent vigil Wednesday afternoon. The protesters wore black tape over their mouths to protest the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which prevents gay service members from serving openly.

"I felt it was definitely something I should be doing," said protester Chad Grandy, 20, of Mount Pleasant, Mich., who was among those ticketed. "To see government-sanctioned discrimination, it really bothers me."

"From our position, freedom to express personal opinion is one of the hallmarks of our democracy," West Point spokesman Lt. Col. Kent Cassella said. But federal law prohibits protests on military installations, he said.

The post is open to scheduled visitors, businesses, and tourists. "But Soulforce had made it clear that they weren't coming here as tourists," said Cassella, who boarded the buses before the protests to explain the policy.

Last October 21, about 40 members of the group stood at a gate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., for a half-hour before they were allowed to lunch in a visitors' cafeteria and went onto the campus, where they greeted a few midshipmen.

Soulforce spokesman Richard Lindsay said before Wednesday's protest that the group declined to agree to restrictions against handing out literature, carrying signs, or making formal presentations. "We mainly just want to discuss the policy with cadets," he said. There were no cadets in sight of the protesters.

"We also want to make it clear that the majority of schools have welcomed us on campus," Lindsay said Tuesday.

Before the protest at the Air Force Academy, Soulforce codirector Jacob Reitan had said members intended to violate a similar policy and face arrest. Military police were called when the protesters took out signs and used a loudspeaker.

At the start of their seven-week tour, 24 were charged with trespassing March 10 at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. Soulforce was founded in 1999 by Mel White, a former ghostwriter for evangelists Falwell and Pat Robertson, after he acknowledged he was gay. Six members were also charged with trespassing trying to step onto the campus at Robertson's Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va., Lindsay said. Six were likewise charged at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., and 24 were charged at Brigham Young in Provo, Utah. (AP)

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