Friday, March 19, 2010

On The Fence To Get Obama Off The Fence

(Lt. Dan Choi, Iraq war, and Capt. Jim Pietrangelo after handcuffing themselves to the White House fence in protest of the anti-lesbian/gay policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" on 18 March 2010. Photo from AmericaBlog.)

Yesterday three people were arrested for an act of civil disobedience following a Human Rights Campaign rally protesting "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", which featured Kathy Griffin. Two of the arrestees were former and current members of the military, Lieutenant Dan Choi and Captain Jim Pietrangelo. Also arrested was activist Robin McGehee of GetEQUAL.

Lt. Choi, a West Point graduate, is facing a pending dishcarge under the DADT policy after he came out as gay on the Rachel Maddow Show. Capt. Pietrangelo has already been formally discharged under DADT for being openly gay.

According to, McGehee and Pietrangelo were the first to handcuff themselves to the White House Fence, followed by Choi, and McGehee was the first to be arrested.

GetEQUAL activist Robin McGehee being arrested as she defends the protest against DADT at the White House on 18 March 2010. Photo from Towleroad.

Early coverage in an article from Towleroad states "Lt. Choi spoke at the rally and asked participants to join him on a march to the White House. Choi led hundreds of people from the rally to the White House where he and Cpt. Pietrangelo cuffed themselves to the fence while the crowd rallied around them. Shortly thereafter Choi and Pietrangelo were cut from the fence and arrested by police. During the minutes leading up to their arrest, activist Robin McGehee of GetEQUAL was also arrested."

Robin McGehee has been traveling with Lt. Choi and is co-director of the National Equality March. She covered the event via Twitter and her reporting sequence can be found in the Towleroad article. According to McGehee, she asked "Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese if Choi could speak at the rally and he rebuffed her, telling her it was Kathy Griffin's rally."

HRC offered an explanation later of their decision to not agree to Choi speaking and then remaining at the rally site when the action left to protest at the White House. HRC also covered the rally at their blog. John Aravosis at AmericaBlog refutes the HRC statement as "utterly untrue".

AmericaBlog covered this story as it was breaking, with video, photographs, and first-hand reporting. They refer to the protestors as "Handcuffed to the fence in front of Barack Obama's White House to protest the President's failure to deliver on his promise to end DADT. This is not the photo that the White House ever wanted. But, it's come to this."

According to The Advocate,"United States Park Police spokesman Sgt. David Schlosser" stated "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." This article also states McGehee was arrested "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 was bailed out and released Thursday evening.

The Human Rights Campaign and other mainstream LGBT rights organizations focus on the repeal of DADT as a main rallying point and fundraiser. GetEQUAL's statement of purpose reads "I join with others who are ready to take bold action to demand equality for LGBTQ people. I will not accept excuses, delays, compromises, or empty promises, and I will hold accountable any person or organization who stands in the way. I will push back, rise up, and speak out against all forms of discrimination that plague our community."

Other organizations within the lesbian and gay community do support causes such as repeal of DADT and removal of the state from marriage definiton, but decry mainstream focus on these two questions to the detriment of other liberation issues which affect a much larger percentage of the population -- issues of job and housing discrimination, children's rights, and freedom from violence. One such group is the sardonically named Against Equality, which promotes "Queer challenges to the politics of inclusion." A sizable percentage of lesbians and gays are anti-war and opposed to the growing militarism of American culture. Their voice is represented in the poster below found at a bus stop at 17th and Castro in San Francisco, apparently placed in mid February 2010 by guerrilla artists from Truthforce (photo by Roseanne Dunbar Ortiz.)