Dan Fotou was among five GetEQUAL activists who bought tickets to the expensive fundraiser for US Sen. Barbara Boxer Monday night at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Shortly after President Obama started speaking, first Laura Kanter, then Fotou started heckling Obama over his lack of leadership in repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“It was worth it to us,” Fotou told me by phone shortly after leaving the event with fellow GetEQUAL activist David The tickets for the VIP reception were three tiers, with Fotou and Kanter buying three of the $500 tickets each and Zoe and – buying $250 tickets each; they did not pay the $2,500. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell must be repealed and the president has to take leadership on it.”
Fotou described the scene, saying they planned their disruptions in a sequence. First Democratic National Committee chair Tim Kaine spoke, then Boxer, who introduced Obama. Shortly into his speech, Kanter started yelling: “Show leadership, Mr. President. Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell! It’s time to get Equal! We’re waiting for you!”
After Kanter interrupted, Fotou started chanting the same thing; then Zoe. The crowd was very angry but the security who dragged them out were OK – offering to let them stay if they promised to be quiet, since they had already paid their tickets. They were allowed back in – though they were assigned to the $250 seat area. Then Zoe Nicholson started in with her chant, followed by Michelle Wright and Laura McFerrin – perplexing Obama who said, “I’m on your side. I’m working to do what I can. What do you want?”
“Boom! That was it,” said Fotou, saying he shouted to insert language into the Defense Re-Authorization bill. “I started screaming, ‘Insert the language’ – over and over and over – until the police came.” This time they were escorted out and advised that if they attempted to come back onto the property, they would be arrested. Meanwhile, Fotou said, the “people inside were very angry.”
Fotou said they had planned to have videographer there, but the president showed up early by helicopter, which closed the major streets in the surrounding area. He said some photos were taken and will be uploaded on Flickr. Meanwhile other protesters outside the museum where cordoned off in a designated demonstration zone.
Fotou said GetEQUAL was particularly angry about a recent Pentagon letter to military families asking their opinion about repealing the policy. “They weren’t asking the families about how to implement the repeal,” Fotou said angrily. “They were asking the families of servicemembers about what they think about the repeal. Why should our rights be going to a poll? The president can change all that by showing leadership and putting the repeal into the Appropriations bill.”
Fotou said Get EQUAL is pushing on DADT specifically because of Obama’s apparent desire to wait to see the Pentagon study on the repeal – which would take about a year. (UPDATE – The Advocate interviewed Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, about reports from Capitol Hill staffers that the Pentagon asked both the House and Senate to delay a vote on the repeal until after the DoD has finished its study.)
Fotou said he continues to be inspired by a campaign promise Obama made in February 2008. Obama said: I will never compromise on my commitment to equal rights for LGBT Americans.”
Fotou and GetEQUAL intends to hold the president to that promise – not just on DADT, but on all LGBT rights.
One side note of interest: to set up the interview, I spoke with Robert Polzoni in San Francisco, who told me to call Jay Carmona in Washington DC, who told Fotou, who now lives in LA, to return my call. So in a manner of speaking, this was a nationally coordinated action. When I noted this, Fotou said, GetEQUAL represents the entire LGBT community, not just the lobbying groups.”
Political advisor and strategic organizer David John Fleck acted as their safety net, to ensure that if anything happened, the right information got out and they were protected, Fotou said. He also emphasized that the action “couldn’t have happened without each and every one of us.”
Most importantly, Fotou said he believes the message got through to Obama. “He’s a wonderful orator. He can talk you down. His response was that he is working with Boxer on this [Boxer did not vote for DADT in 1993],” Fotou said. “But that’s not enough. I know he heard us. It’s now on his radar. And we’re not going away. We’re going to keep showing up and showing up until Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed.”
I just watched video on the local KCAL News which has not yet been posted online. Obama looked ruffled, while trying to calm the crowd angry with the protesters.
“We need to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which I agree with – and which we have begun to do,” Obama said. He tries to speak over the yelling. “I just confirmed with Barbara and if you’re thinking of starting a chant – Barbara didn’t vote for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the first place so you know she’s going to be for repeal.”
Interesting how Obama turned what had been a plea for his leadership into a plug for Boxer.
UPDATE: According to the latest pool report, Obama referenced DADT at the tonier event later in the evening. I don’t know if he would have done that without the protest.
Here’s how the White House Press Pool described it:
At 6:17, several protesters among the crowd interrupted POTUS’ speech, expressing anger over the slow progress on repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gay service members. The crowd tried to hush them. “What about don’t ask, don’t tell?” one protester shouted.
POTUS yelled back “we are going to do that.”
POTUS kept talking, increasing his volume to speak over the protesters. The crowd then erupted into chants of “Yes, we can.”
He later said, “we are going to repeal don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Your pooler has learned the protesters are from GetEQUAL, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group that also orchestrated protests outside the fundraiser. The group was also behind a protest last month at the White House, where activists Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. James Pietrangelo handcuffed themselves to a gate.
“IT’s time for equality for all Americans!” another protester yelled at 9:22. Obama said, “can I just say again Barbara and I are supportive of repealing Don’t ask dont tell.” But protester keeps yelling. Bringing Obama’s remarks to a halt. The crowd responds again by “shouting yes we can!” over the protesters.
“Be quiet!” someone yells.
At 6:25 local time, POTUS has regained control of the speech.
Here’s the press release GetEQUAL put out after the action:
Moments ago, several GetEQUAL activists interrupted President Obama during his speech at a fundraising reception for Senator Barbara Boxer in Los Angeles, expressing anger over the slow progress on repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ this year and demanding that he repeal it.
GetEQUAL activists shouted, “what about ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’” and “it’s time for equality for all Americans.” The President, at one point bringing his remarks to a halt, said, “Barbara and I are supportive of repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’.”
Activists David John Fleck, Dan Fotou, Laura Kanter, Zoe Nicholson, and Michelle Wright were then escorted out of the reception by security officers.
In a subsequent press release, GetEQUAL said:
“President Obama has been AWOL on DADT,” Fotou. “We had to reminded him of the promises he made to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community during his campaign and several times during his Presidency – that DADT will be repealed because, as he’s stated, ‘it’s the right thing to do.’”
“We made it clear our community will hold accountable our President for unkept promises,” said Wright. “Denying LGBT service members and personnel the ability to serve their country is unfair.”
Today’s action took place nearly one year after a similar protest outside an Obama appearance in Los Angeles, when Lt. Dan Choi asked the President for a response to a letter signed by 136,000 people to repeal DADT.
“These empowering and brave activists feel so strongly about our rights they were willing to confront the President of the United States on his lack of leadership on DADT and to hold him accountable for the promises he has made to our community,” said Kip Williams, co-founder of GetEQUAL.
Those involved in the action:
David John Fleck resides in Long Beach, CA. He is a former Grassroots Outreach Organizing Director for the Courage Campaign and Steering Committee member for the National Equality March. He was involved in today’s action because he believes that this year, this Congress offers the only realistic prospect to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and that the President must take a leadership role in accomplishing what he promised in his State of the Union Address.
Dan Fotou lives in Los Angeles, CA. He took part in today’s action because he has a dream to have access to the same rights, freedoms, privileges and protections as every other American citizen. He believes federal law must be enacted to protect the LGBTQ community against all forms of discrimination.
Laura Kanter resides in Irvine, CA with her wife. She was one of 18,000 couples able to get married. A good friend of Dan Choi, she is participating in today’s action because it is wrong to deny Dan Choi and every other LGBT American who is willing to risk their life for this country, the opportunity to serve. Laura will continue to fight out loud as long as LGBT people are denied equal rights and will challenge Democrats and other progressive thinkers who allow this injustice to continue.
Laura McFerrin from Dallas, TX. She organized a protest at First Baptist Church in Dallas, TX after the minister preached a sermon, “Why Gay is Not Okay”. Laura is the director of March On, a documentary following the lives of several LGBT families on their journey to the National Equality March in Washington last October. She believes that this direct action will serve as a wake up call to Obama and remind him of his promises
Zoe Nicholson lives in Newport Beach, CA. A feminist and fighter for civil rights, she is the founder of ERA Once and For All, a life long member of NOW, NWPC, Veteran Feminists of America and outspoken voice for LGBTQAI rights. She has been on the front lines of activism since the 1960s.
Michelle Wright resides in Fresno, CA. Through years of participation in sports she understands competition and passion. Both are key components in the life of a military service member and have the ability to weave there way into one’s internal framework. To deny LGBT the right to pursue their dreams is unjust and she took part in the action because she stands in solidarity with uniform wearing LGBT members who look forward to serving their country with pride and honor.
You can view photos of the action at http://www.flickr.com/photos/getequal/
You can view videos of the action at http://www.youtube.com/getequal