Eight people were arrested during a sit-in staged by the direct action group GetEqual in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Wednesday as part of an effort to push House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to take a vote on the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, legislation that would outlaw workplace discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
"In March, GetEqual held a sit-in in Pelosi's office asking her to bring ENDA to the floor for a vote. At that point, we said we would keep coming back until it was voted on," explained Heather Cronk, GetEqual spokesperson, who participated in the
protest as an observer. "So this is us making good on our promise, asking her to make good on her promise over the last few years on ENDA."
A spokesperson for the Speaker said ENDA was still in the queue for a vote but encouraged activists to focus their energy on the Senate.
"Passing ENDA this year is a top priority for the Speaker, but we believe that passing ENDA before DADT repeal has been finalized, jeopardizes both initiatives," said Drew Hammill. "Until then, the LGBT community should encourage the Senate to develop a course for ENDA to ensure that when the House passes the legislation, the Senate can move quickly to send the legislation to the President's desk."
The group of about 20 LGBT activists entered the building as part of a routine tour through the Capitol. Upon reaching the rotunda, they pulled out signs reading, "Pass ENDA Now" and "Pelosi: This Is Your Reminder." Before sitting down in the center of the rotunda, they began a variation on their signature chant, "Speaker Pelosi ... I am ... somebody ... I deserve ... job protections."
Eight people volunteered to risk arrest in the action, with the other half present to provide support including a couple legal observers. But the support people along with tourists and reporters were quickly removed by Capitol police, according to Cronk, leaving only the eight "riskables" seated in the rotunda. The eight who were arrested include: Orelia Busch, Charles Butler, Sean Carlson, Shannon Cuttle, Robert Diesu, Erika Knepp, David McElhatton, and Zack Rosen.
Pelosi told attendees at last weekend's Netroots Nation conference for progressive bloggers that they should hold her accountable, though she stopped short of promising a vote on ENDA.
"I can't give you a time, but I can tell you that it is a priority," Pelosi said during a Q&A in a room of roughly 1,000 conference attendees. "To do it this year, we have to finish 'don't ask, don't tell.' And hopefully we can do them both this year."
Cronk said the group chose the rotunda because it symbolizes "America's commitment to justice, equality, and freedom." At the beginning of the tour, she noted they had been shown a film with narration stating, "This is the core - the center - of our experiment with political freedom."
But she added that GetEqual plans to take its show out of Washington and on the road during the August recess (Aug. 9 - Sept. 10), when lawmakers will be back in their home districts.
"We'll be taking our actions into the states," she said. "We plan to hold other lawmakers accountable and we intend to help those lawmakers who haven't made a commitment to ENDA yet to do so."
Cronk said GetEqual was consulting with other national organizations, researching the public whip count at Act on Principles, and getting feedback from other LGBT advocates who walk the halls of Congress to determine whom to target.
Watch footage by MetroWeekly of the protest below: