Robin McGehee: Back to the White House — to walk through the gates

This is a guest post from Robin McGehee, the co-founder and Director of GetEQUAL. On Monday, she was arrested at the White House for the second time. This morning, she’s attending a meeting Brian Bond, the Deputy Director of the Office of Public Engagement. She wanted to share her thoughts on this meeting. It’s a powerful piece:

Tomorrow marks eight months to the day that Lt. Dan Choi, Cpt. Jim Pietrangleo and I were arrested in front of the White House, in an effort to apply pressure on the Administration to play a more active role in the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Since that date there has been much community debate on whether the tactics of non-violent civil disobedience, more appropriately, direct action, would actually produce results. We have history on our side, not only in our movement, but in multiple other social movements, that reflects there is living proof that direct action produces results.

On Monday, I joined with twelve of my lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters at the fence outside of the White House to protest the continued lack of leadership our elected leaders have chosen to dedicate to repealing the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law. As we have done three times before, I stepped up to the gate with twelve American patriots – many wearing the uniform they earned while serving our country – and attached handcuffs to my wrists, and then to the cold black fence protecting our country’s Commander in Chief. An hour after carrying out this non-violent act of civil disobedience, I found myself – a lesbian mother of two young children, who had walked precincts to elect the man who promised us change – arrested and carted away like common criminals.

Ironically, over two years ago, my direct action to campaign for candidate Barack Obama led to his eventual election on the same night we watched our community’s rights to marriage equality get stripped away by ballot bashing with Proposition 8. We organized locally, we organized nationally and, now, the efforts of those who are unwilling to be treated as less than equal, have taken enough direct action to gain the attention and invitation to the White House. To be completely honest, as nice as it is to be invited to the White House, I just want to be home, as an equal, riding bikes with my kids.

In the ugly and hard world of political and social movements, those of us on the front-lines grow accustomed to scenes like what unfolded at the White House fence on Monday.

Unfortunately, this Administration does not reflect the values I campaigned for and Barack Obama campaigned on when he said “we are not a straight America or a gay America, we are the United States of America.” Right now, it is still very clear that there is a straight America and a gay America and we are willing to do everything possible to break down that barrier. A year ago, the thought of being arrested and carted away to a dingy jail would have seemed surreal. To me, sadly, it’s become unnervingly familiar.

What I’m not familiar with – or at all accustomed to – is attending meetings inside the White House. Yes, I’ve certainly been to the outside of the White House, but today, that is where I find myself.

Only two short days after being arrested for chaining myself to the White House fence and asking my President why he hasn’t fulfilled his promise of equality, I’ll pass through the same gate and by those familiar guard shacks today to meet with Brian Bond, Deputy Director of the Office of Public Engagement. I accepted Mr. Bond’s request for a meeting, but let me be clear – I don’t, for a second, plan on backing down. Not for a second will I be talked out of fighting for my community’s equality because of political pressure or the fear of not being invited back. Instead, I plan on following in the footsteps of Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an elected leader who showed the courage to fight for what he believed in by being arrested because of the lack of leadership other elected leaders are showing on immigration reform. As Rep. Guiterrez did yesterday, I too will honor the meeting they requested with me, but I won’t honor any closed-door attempts to quiet a community starving for their dignity and their equality.

What I will do is share with them the t-shirt I wore as I walked precincts with my son in 2008, handing out No on 8 and Obama for America campaign signs. If this Administration is going to talk to me today about how hard it is to create change, I will tell them how hard it is to walk door to door in the very red community of Fresno, California. I will share with them the story of Cpl. Evelyn Thomas, the human face of the statistic showing that women of color are disproportionately kicked out of the military under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. And I will reassure them that we will continue to organize, although we don’t want to have to, and this pressure won’t stop until we see the fierce advocacy we were promised.

In the hard-knock world of Washington politics, it may sound rather trite and old-fashioned to simply ask our leaders to come through on the promises they gave us when they were campaigning for office. I will take the frustrated voices who are demanding dignity and equality for themselves and their families in to this meeting with me and I’ll make clear that the days of back room compromises of our rights are no longer acceptable. After all, these days I‘m more comfortable wearing handcuffs than I am a power suit.

UDPATE: Karen Ocamb has a more extensive piece on Robin and background on Brian Bond at LGBT POV. It’s got some excellent background and Karen asks “I wonder if Bond knows what he’s in for.”

On October 27, 2010, Joe was one of five bloggers who interviewed President Obama. Joe is a DC-based political consultant with over twenty-five years of experience at both the state and federal level. Joe has managed political operations and legislative efforts for both candidates and issues-based organizations. For seven years, he was the Director of State Legislation at Handgun Control, Inc. He served as that organization's first Political Director during the 2000 cycle. Joe is a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law. In addition, he has a Masters in Public Administration from Lehigh University and received his B.A. from the University of New Hampshire. Joe also has a fun dog, Petey, a worthy successor to Boomer, who got Joe through eight years of Bush and Cheney. Joe likes to think he is a world class athlete having finished the 2005 Chicago Marathon in the time of 4:10. He has completed six other marathons as well -- and is still determined to break the four hour mark.

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