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
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.
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
"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."
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
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.
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)