Tensions over repealing DADT (Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the ban on gays in the military) flared this week, as a gay rights group targeted President Obama at two events. On Monday, the president chastised members of the group GetEQUAL who interrupted a fundraiser; on Tuesday the group arranged for a well-known veteran and activist to chain himself to a fence in front of the White House. As the congress drags its feet over DADT, will these increasingly public events help to speed the pace of change?
On Monday night, during a fundraiser for California Senator Barbara Boxer, President Obama found himself under attack by gay rights protesters who shouted at him during his remarks, demanding that he change DADT and provide "equality for all Americans." The president responded directly: "We are going to do that!" He then explained to the crowd, "What the young man was talking about was we need to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell, which I agree with and we are going to do." And then, as the heckling continued, the president said, visibly frustrated, "It would make more sense to holler that at the people who oppose it."
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On Tuesday, the tension escalated as Lieutenant Dan Choi staged a protest at the White House that quickly drew media attention. Choi is gay (he outed himself on the Rachel Maddow Show last March), an Army officer, a West Point graduate (with a degree in Arabic), and a very public DADT opponent. In protest of DADT, he and five other men, all in military uniform, chained themselves to the North Lawn fence of the White House.
The group GetEQUAL apparently coordinated both efforts, and released the names of the White House protesters: Lt. Choi, Capt. Jim Pietrangelo, Petty Officer Larry Whitt, Petty Officer Autumn Sandeen, Cadet Mara Boyd and Cpl. Evelyn Thomas. Choi and Pietrangelo had chained themselves to the fence last month, but this protest was planned as a larger effort, with all of six of the protesters members of the military. Police appear to have overreacted: on the internet quickly appeared a video of police closing the park near the protesters and pushing reporters away from the scene.
These efforts are no doubt intended to counter the perception of a backlash for ending DADT with a set of concrete political costs associated with failing to end it. Whether congressional leaders are listening is another story.