Opening Day of the Lame-Duck Session of Congress: 13 Total Veterans and Advocates Arrested; Call on U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, President Obama to Immediately Stop the Discharges
Washington, DC – This afternoon, three generations of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender veterans and advocates went back to the White House fence to call for the U.S. Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, and President Obama to make good on their promises to secure the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during the abbreviated, lame-duck session of Congress that started today.
During the direct action organized by GetEQUAL – a national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization – and local activists, 13 veterans and advocates handcuffed themselves to the White House fence in an act of non-violent, civil disobedience protesting the un-American, discriminatory law yet to be repealed by Congress -- regardless of the numerous promises by President Obama, Congressional leaders and national LGBT leaders that they would do so by the end of this year.
Photos and video of the three generations of veterans and repeal advocates taking part in an act of civil disobedience today at the White House will soon be available online at www.getequal.org. Also, you can visit GetEQUAL’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/getequal) to stay up-to-date regarding the well-being and release of the 13 veterans and advocates arrested today.
The 13 veterans and repeal advocates arrested today include:
- Five veterans (Lt. Dan Choi, Petty Officer Autumn Sandeen, Cpl. Evelyn Thomas, and Cadet Mara Boyd) who were arrested back in March during the GetEQUAL organized “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” act of civil disobedience at the White House fence demanding President Obama show leadership on repeal.
- Robin McGehee, co-founder and director of GetEQUAL, and Dan Fotou, action strategist for GetEQUAL.
- Former U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Miriam Ben-Shalom, who was discharged in 1976 for declaring and admitting she was a lesbian. She became the first-ever LGBT servicemember reinstated to her position in the U.S. Military, by a U.S. Federal District Court. On July 30th, 1993, Miriam and 26 other protesters were arrested at the White House fence for protesting then-President Bill Clinton’s broken promise to repeal the gay ban – instead signing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” bill into law.
- Former U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Justin Elzie who, in 1993, became the first Marine ever investigated and discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law. Elzie was also the first soldier to be discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to fight his discharge and win – resulting in his service as a Marine for four years as an openly gay man.
- Former U.S. Army Arabic Linguist Ian Finkenbinder, who was discharged from the Army in December 2004 after announcing to his superiors that he was gay. Finkenbinder is an Iraq war veteran and was about to return for a second tour of duty when he was discharged.
- U.S. Army Veteran and Repeal Advocate Rob Smith, who was deployed to both Iraq and Kuwait before being honorably discharged after deciding not to re-enlist in the U.S. Army due to the added pressure of living under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.
- Father Geoff Farrow, a Catholic priest who spoke out against the church’s official stance in support of California’s Proposition 8, removing the rights of same-sex couples to marry. Because of his courageous stance against Prop 8, Father Geoff Farrow was removed as pastor of St. Paul’s by his bishop and suspended as a priest.
- Scott Wooledge,a New York-based LGBT civil rights advocate and blogger who has written extensively on the movement to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” at Daily Kos and Pam's House Blend.
- Michael Bedwell, long-time LGBT civil rights advocate, close friend of Leonard Matlovich, and administrator of the site www.leonardmatlovich.com.
“On the White House fence today, and in a jail cell this evening, are thirteen American patriots,” said Robin McGehee, co-founder and director of GetEQUAL. “Included in the thirteen arrested are veterans and advocates spanning three generations of brave and courageous Americans, who sacrificed their careers and lives to see the day this discriminatory ban on openly gay and lesbian service in the military finally goes into the history books. Today, we have sent a loud and clear message to the U.S. Senate and President Obama that we expect them to make good on their promises to end this inhumane law this year, during the lame-duck session of Congress.”
“Today, I stand again at the White House fence – 17 years later – still protesting the injustice and hypocrisy of a failed law,” said former U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Miriam Ben-Shalom. “And with us today is not only the spirit of Lieutenant Enslin, the first to be discharged from the U.S. Military for being gay, but also standing here in spirit are every young woman and man awaiting discharge under the shameful ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law. They are here and we are here, all together still America's daughters and sons, still willing to serve and protect this country. I sincerely pray our country’s elected leaders in Congress and the White House will have the courage to repeal this law and make this the last time I have to come back to this fence and be arrested in protest of a law in direct contrast with our values and beliefs as Americans.”
Earlier today at the National Congressional Cemetery, GetEQUAL – along with veterans and other “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal advocates – held a vigil at the gravesite of Sgt. Leonard Matlovich. Matlovich, a recipient of both the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, made headlines in the 1970s after he came out as openly gay and fought to stay in the U.S. Air Force – landing him on the cover of Time Magazine. Matlovich’s tombstone at the Congressional Cemetery is meant to be a memorial to all gay veterans and is inscribed with the well-known phrase: "When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one." The vigil, held to coincide with the start of the lame-duck session of Congress, sent a clear and frank message to the United States Senate – repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” now!
To view photos and video from the vigil earlier today, please go to www.getequal.orgor www.facebook.com/getequal.
GetEQUAL will continue to engage throughout the week in actions pressuring the Senate to repeal the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law. The lame-duck session began today, and is expected to run approximately two weeks – or until leadership has the votes to call adjournment. With Congressional leaders such as John McCain and Carl Levin in discussions over the "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell" policy, national activists across party lines are making their voices heard.
GetEQUAL is a national, direct action lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization. Emphasizing direct action and people power, the mission of GetEQUAL is to empower the LGBT community and its allies to take action to demand full legal and social equality, and to hold accountable those who stand in the way. For more information on GetEQUAL, please visit: http://www.getequal.org. You can follow GetEQUAL on Twitter athttp://www.twitter.com/getequal, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/GetEQUAL, or on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/getequal.
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