Frustrated by what they perceive to be a lack of resolution on the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, gay rights activists have begun targeting the White House in some of the most direct and personal terms to date, accusing the president of being a silent homophobe.
Thirteen demonstrators organized by the GetEqual campaign handcuffed themselves to the White House's north gate on Monday (and reportedly super-glued the handcuffs), demanding that Obama push Congress to advance a repeal of the law prohibiting openly gay service in the armed forces. Prior to leading a chant of "Barack Obama, silent homophobia," the individuals offered sharp rebukes of political leaders across the spectrum. They were arrested shortly thereafter.
"We have served our country valiantly, the defense of freedom and justice, now it is time for our leaders to do the same," said Lt. Dan Choi, a gay Army officer who was fired under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and has become the face of the campaign for repeal of the policy. "After visiting Senator Harry Reid today, the majority leader, his staff telling us that the president is not engaged, at all, in the repeal of the most discriminatory law that bars soldiers from telling the truth. After all his rhetoric I think we must conclude that there is truth to the knowledge in homophobia of both sorts. There is a loud homophobia, those with platforms. And there is a silent homophobia of those who purport to be our friends and do nothing. Loud homophobia and silent homophobia have the same result, they must be combated and this is what we intend to do today."
Choi's recounting of the meeting he held earlier that morning with staffers in Reid's office was disputed by aides to the majority leader. While a military fellow at Reid's office did acknowledge that he had not heard from the White House directly on DADT repeal, others on the staff have been engaged with administration officials, a spokesperson clarified. Earlier in the day, it was reported that Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin's office had also said the White House was not pushing the envelop on DADT repeal. That story, however, ended up being erroneous and was removed from the web.
The conflicting reports underscored what has quickly become a game of finger-pointing over who is to blame for failure to overturn the 17-year-old policy. On Monday morning, a staffer for Reid told the group of GetEqual activists that they remained committed to DADT's repeal but that they needed other allies in Congress, specifically within the Republican caucus.
"Senator Reid stands behind his commitment to repeal DADT but he can't do it alone," an aide said. "He is going to need republican senators, notably, Sen. McCain to heed the advice of our military leaders and reverse this discriminatory policy."
As for more direct questions about legislative strategy, Reid's staff deferred questions to Levin's office. But when contacted by the Huffington Post, a staffer for the Michigan Democrat had no specific insights to add.
DADT repeal, indeed, seems currently stuck in limbo, without the necessary votes to overturn a filibuster. The practical problem lies with Republicans, who have pledged to derail any legislative packaged that includes repeal language. And the focal point of that opposition has become McCain.
The Arizona Senator had, in the past, said he would be willing to support DADT repeal if the military commanders thought it was appropriate to do so. On Sunday, however, he kicked the can down the road, saying he needed more input and another survey about the impact of repeal (even though one is set to be released showing minimal impact) before offering his support.
"Sen. McCain is clearly out of touch, not only with the American people, but also the Pentagon and our troops," read a statement in response from Army veteran and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis. "McCain seems to be saying he wants a do-over because he doesn't like the findings and recommendations in the Pentagon report going to Secretary Gates. In other words, McCain is telling the Pentagon: Keep working until you produce the outcome I'm looking for."