VIDEO: Big day for GetEQUAL; San Diegans protest DADT, arrests of activists

GetEQUAL.org made quite a splash on the national scene on Thursday.

Organizers staged a series of protests across the country to call for the immediate end of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and to free Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. James Pietrangelo II after their arrests for a civil disobedience act at the White House.

One of those protests was in downtown San Diego at 6 p.m., just hours after the arrests.

The upstart group’s grass-roots efforts overshadowed a similar rally on the Capitol put on by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a well-oiled, politically-connected group that many younger members of the LGBT community accuse of being out of touch and too slow to react to breaking news.

Take the case of Lt. Dan Choi, who was drummed out of the Army for being gay. Choi, who is a supporter of GetEQUAL, was initially not asked to join the HRC event that was scheduled with Kathy Griffin, the “My Life on the D-List” star on Bravo.

Choi, however, attended the HRC event and asked if he could address the 1,000 people at the rally. Choi’s companions told reporters that he was denied by Joe Solmonese, longtime president of the HRC.

Later, though, Griffin invited Choi to come to the stage to speak about DADT.

The incident became an ongoing dispute all day Thursday between the HRC and GetEQUAL and other gay-rights activists.

The HRC issued this statement, which was an update from a previous statement:

“Today HRC along with veterans and entertainer Kathy Griffin hosted a rally at DC's Freedom Plaza between the White House and Capitol Hill, calling for the repeal of ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell.’ HRC President Joe Solmonese welcomed the crowd of more than 1000 and encouraged them to take action and put pressure on the White House and Congress to end this discriminatory law NOW. More than 500 people signed up to become more involved in the fight to repeal DADT.

“Singer Tom Goss kicked off the event followed by the first American wounded in the Iraq war, retired Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva. Also speaking were Ben Mishkin of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and Alex Nicholson of Servicemembers United. Finally, Kathy Griffin took to the stage, talking about her experiences this week in Washington, welcoming Lt. Dan Choi to the stage to make a few remarks and then calling for a moment of silence to honor our troops who serve in silence.

“There's been some confusion about Lt. Dan Choi's role in the rally. As Joe Solmonese was walking on stage Lt. Choi asked Joe if he could have a speaking role. Joe explained that it wasn't his sole decision to make on the spot given that there was already an established program that included Kathy Griffin, other organization and veterans. After Choi then spoke with Kathy Griffin, she agreed to bring him up on stage and speak to the crowd during her remarks.

“Lt. Choi in his speech called on the crowd to march on the White House. Joe Solmonese along with Eric Alva and others felt it was important to stay and engage those at the rally in ways they can continue building the pressure needed for repeal. This does nothing to diminish the actions taken by Lt. Choi and others. This is the nature of social change and everyone has a role to play.”

Choi, Pietrangelo and California activist Robin McGehee were arrested after they chained themselves to a front gate at the White House in an act of peaceful civil disobedience to protest the DADT policy.

Choi and Pietrangelo were being held Thursday night without bail in a District of Columbia jail – a rather harsh treatment considering that most peaceful civil disobedient arrests lead to immediate release from jail pending payment of a fine.

When news got out that the two soldiers were not being released from jail, GetEQUAL put out a call for nationwide protests and within hours activists were putting together demonstrations in support of the soldiers and against DADT. San Diegans rallied at 6 p.m. Thursday downtown at the Hall of Justice.

HRC did nothing.

Nearly simultaneously, GetEQUAL activists also crowded into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office in the Capitol and her district office in San Francisco to demand that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) be brought to the House floor for a vote by the end of March.

HRC did nothing.

At least five LGBT activists were arrested in Pelosi’s office in D.C. after a sit-in.

The arrests came about four hours after the activists arrived for a pre-scheduled meeting with Pelosi’s staff to discuss ENDA. The activists locked the doors to Pelosi’s office and tweeted live from the sit-in.

Several activists were reportedly arrested at Pelosi's San Francisco office.

Who is GetEqual?

Robin McGehee and Kip Williams, co-directors of 2009's National Equality March, recently announced the launch of their online organizing initiative for the LGBTQ community. Here is their mission statement:

Our mission at GetEQUAL is simple: to create a movement of everyday people—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and straight—who are dedicated to bringing about full legal and social equality. We believe there are millions of Americans who are tired of waiting and are ready to act. Our goal is to serve and grow this constituency by helping them take strategic, coordinated, bold action to demand equality, and to hold accountable those who stand in the way.

We know it will take all of us working together to reach our goals, so we seek to create a broad and inclusive community. GetEQUAL will bring together people of every sex, gender, race, class, age, ability, look, religion, family status, or citizenship; those who can contribute in small ways, and those who are able to put themselves on the line. United, we can build a more powerful movement to demand change. We invite you to join us, and ask your friends and family to do the same.



Ken Williams is the Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at (877) 727-5446, ext 713 or at ken@sdgln.com

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