In an act of civil disobedience, Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. Jim Pietrangelo were arrested at the White House gates on Thursday while protesting the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
Following a Human Rights Campaign rally for DADT repeal at Freedom Plaza in Washington, Choi and Pietrangelo led about 100 protesters to the White House, where the two then proceeded to handcuff themselves to the gates. Pietrangelo was discharged from the military under the gay ban,
while Choi's discharge is pending. Choi is the founder of Knights Out,
a West Point alumni organization supporting LGBT soldiers.
United States Park Police spokesman Sgt. David Schlosser told The Advocate that both men were taken to Park Police's Anacostia station for processing, where they were charged with failure to obey a lawful order. Choi and Pietrangelo will be held overnight and are scheduled to appear in D.C. Superior Court on Friday.
Paul Yandura, an organizer of the action, said via e-mail Friday morning that Choi and Pietrangelo had been moved from DC Central Cell Block to the D.C. Superior Court and are expected to be arraigned at 2:30 pm by a judge in room 115. The charges could not be verified, he said.
Meanwhile, news of a growing grassroots response in solidarity with the activists poured in, with a rally scheduled for noon Friday at the Times Square Military Recruitment Office in New York City, and a rally planned in Orlando, Florida.
Gay rights activist Robin McGehee was also arrested Thursday,
apparently for helping the two discharged soldiers handcuff themselves to the
fence. An officer who arrested McGehee said "I can't say anything" on
why she was taken into custody. McGehee, who helped organize the action as part of GetEqual.org, was bailed out and released Thursday evening.
Choi was not originally scheduled to speak at the HRC rally but, upon arriving, requested to be a last-minute addition to the program.
"You've been told that the White House has a plan," Choi told rally attendees. "But we learned this week that the president is still not
fully committed. ... Following this rally, I will be leading [the protest] to the White House to say 'enough talk.' ... I am still standing, I am still fighting, I am still speaking out, and I am still gay."
Choi then asked HRC's executive director, Joe Solmonese, and comedian Kathy Griffin, who was in Washington at the behest of HRC to lobby
members of Congress about DADT repeal, if they would also march to the
White House. Griffin responded, "Of course!" from the stage. Solmonese reportedly gave a thumbs up sign from the crowd. Neither Griffin nor Solmonese attended the White House protest, however.
Once the two men handcuffed themselves to the fence, police officers blocked the gates of the White House with yellow tape and pushed back the protesters, who were chanting DADT repeal slogans and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
The HRC released the following statement on the rally: “Today more than 1,000 people showed up at a rally — 500 of which signed up to become more involved in the fight to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ Joe Solmonese along with [gay Iraq war veteran] Eric Alva and others felt it was important to stay and engage those at the rally in ways they can continue building the pressure needed for repeal. This does nothing to diminish the actions taken by Lt. Choi and others. This is the nature of social change and everyone has a role to play.”
Alex Nicholson, a scheduled speaker at the HRC rally and executive director of the gay veterans group Servicemembers United, did follow the marchers to the White House. He said he had "no idea" what they were planning to do and that civil disobedience wasn't really his style, but he added that he understood the anger mounting in many corners of the LGBT community.
"I used to be skeptical about these types of things especially when there appeared to be significant hope for some immediate progress on 'don't ask, don't tell,'" Nicholson said. "I think it's indicative of the frustration that's bubbling up right now."
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Julie Bolcer contributed to this report.