by Lisa Keen
Tension in Washington continues to mount as protesters – namely from recently formed activist group GetEQUAL – have grown increasingly demanding of the president and Congress in regard to repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
President Obama, appearing at a fundraiser for U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer in Los Angeles April 19, seemed initially irritated when his speech in support of Boxer’s re-election was interrupted with shouts that he do more to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
An Associated Press video of the proceeding shows him trying, at first, to talk over the protests, then trying to respond the to them, saying “We are going to do that.” When the protests continue, he raises his hand and says, “Hey, hold on a second. Hold on a second. We are going to do that.”
By then, the full audience had begun chanting, “Yes, we can,” drowning out the protesters. The president stood quietly at the podium until the crowd began to quiet and then he beckoned them: “Now, listen. What the young man was talking about was we need to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ which I agree with and which we have begun to do.”
“But let me say this,” continued the president, “when you’ve got an ally like Barbara Boxer and you’ve got an ally like me who are standing for the same thing, then you don’t know exactly why you’ve got to holler, because we already hear you, all right? I mean, it would have made more sense to holler that at the people who oppose it.”
President Obama resumed his speech after the first protesters were escorted out, but then additional protesters began to shout, “It’s time for equality for all Americans!” Obama repeated that he and Boxer “are supportive of repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ so I don’t know why you’re hollering.”
Los Angeles Frontiers editor Karen Ocamb reported the protest was carried out by five activists with LGBT activist group GetEQUAL. The protesters paid between $250 and $500 each to attend the event.
One of the protesters, Dan Fotou, told Ocamb: “I know he heard us. It’s now on his radar. And we’re not going away. We’re going to keep showing up and showing up until Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed.”
Meanwhile, on April 20, six uniformed protesters chained themselves to the White House fence to protest “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” According to GetEQUAL, which organized the both actions, the protesters included Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. Jim Pietrangelo, who were arrested last month after chaining himself to the White House fence in a similar protest. They were joined this time by Petty Officer Larry Whitt, Petty Officer Autumn Sandeen, Cadet Mara Boyd, and Airman Victor Price.
“We are handcuffing ourselves to the White House gates once again to demand that President Obama show leadership on repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ If the president were serious about keeping his promise to repeal this year, he would put the repeal language in his Defense Authorization budget,” said Choi.
“The President gave us an order at the Human Rights Campaign dinner to keep pressure on him and we will continue to return to the White House, in larger numbers, until the President keeps his promise to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ this year.”
Amid growing signs that the White House is wavering on its commitment to repeal DADT this year, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) called on the President last month to publicly state his desire to repeal DADT this year. President Obama has refused to respond, prompting Frank to say that he is “disappointed” and “frustrated” with the Obama administration’s silence on DADT. “At this point, the president’s refusal to call for repeal this year is a problem,” Frank said, adding that the President’s silence is now costing votes in the Congress.
Corporal Evelyn Thomas, who participated in today’s action said, “A few weeks ago I saw Lt. Dan Choi take dramatic action at the White House and it made me realize that I needed to do something to stand up for all the black female soldiers who have been discharged under DADT. Many people don’t know that we Black women are discharged disproportionately more than others under DADT.”
The protesters were arrested soon after they took action.