Five protesters affiliated with a Phoenix-based group, H.E.R.O., demonstrated today at Sen. John McCain's office to urge him to support repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. According to twitter messages issued this afternoon by GetEqual, a separate group, the five refused to leave McCain's office unless he spoke to them personally.
One activist said "We will only leave when he speaks to us so I guess arrest us," according to GetEqual's twitter message. The five were arrested and then released. According to local activist Bobby Parker, the police and media were alerted in advance, and both the protest and the police response were very respectful.
The organization, Human & Equal Rights Organizers (HERO), is asking people to contact McCain's office (602-952-2410) to voice their support for ending the ban on gay and lesbian service members serving openly. There is also a rally being held at 5pm today Arizona time in Phoenix. (McCain HQ, 16th St. and Missouri)
Details and video after the jump.
According to Mr. Parker, the five arrested today were First Class Petty Officer Allen Howard, Jimmy Gruender, Luisa Valdez, Meg Sneed, and Lee Walters.
Officer Howard's story is detailed in the video below.
Parker also clarified their mission in staking out Sen. McCain's office. "They are accusing John McCain of 'flip-flopping' on the issue after saying he would follow the lead of the military command officers in our nation, he is now opposing DADT. Shortly following President Barack Obama's State of the Union address in January, in which he announced he wanted to repeal the ban, McCain issued his own statement, calling repeal a 'mistake.'"
Here is Petty Officer Howard's story in his own words:
I was in the U.S. Coast Guard for seven years. I would have actually had ten years this past June. I was married, to a woman, and had kids and when I actually came out we were working through all of that and she was using it against me, started to get vindictive and was threatening to out me to my commander. My record was impeccable. There was no reason if she had gone to my command officer and if they had asked me I could have denied it and they would have believed me. There would have been no reason for them not to believe me because there would could have said that she was just a disgruntled spouse.
But, I was a drill instructor. I was instilling honor, respect, devotion to duty into recruits, telling them to live up to integrity, to live up to honor. Then here I am struggling with a battle: do I take a chance and let somebody have a blackmail situation over my life for the next for the next 15-16 years, or do I say something now?
I will tell you that is the hardest decision I had to deal with. I wrote a letter and pretty much told my commanding officer that I was gay. When everything first happened and transpired and I sent my letter, word spread really fast. I was on the training base at Cape May, which is the only training base center for the whole U.S. Coast Guard, nowhere else. So it spread fast. I didn't know what kind of reaction was going to happen. If people were going to come after me...not one person had an issue. I had drill instructors that wrote 25 letters of recommendation.
I had to go in front of a board of three officers who said that you can just go through and we'll process you and everything else. I said, no. I want a guaranteed honorable discharge. I have no reason not to have an honorable discharge. To guarantee that I had to go in front of a board of three officers and I had to tell them why I deserved to have an honorable discharge. I had to tell them again my process, what happened to me. I actually had to write it out because I was so emotional. For me, wearing that uniform wasn't like wearing clothes to go to work. Wearing that uniform was an honor, it was a privilege, a right that I could stand up and fight for my country. That was taken away from me. It was pulled away from me and it was like -- if you imagine yourself, each of us have functions or things that make us who we are, we have pillars -- whether it is organizations, or clubs, or whatever it is that makes us who we are. Imagine someone saying you have to take that away.
I felt like my heart was ripped out of my chest and it was like -- you can't do this because you are gay. But yet everybody I worked with, they were like -- there's no reason for this. We don't see why you can't serve, why you can't be here with us. You are better than some of the other straight drill instructors. I said, you know what, all I need is your support. When I had to go into my board meeting it was closed. There was no media, no recording, no witnesses. Nobody could be in there but me and my lawyer. I had ten drill instructors outside of that room waiting when I got out so they could be there for me and support me. Even to this day I have people who are talking to me and are behind me 100%. I feel that taking such a negative situation, as what happened to me -- I need to turn it into a positive. When I left, I vowed to my friends who are gay and lesbian, I said, you know what -- I will do everything in my power to be your voice. To be the voice that you can't be and to make this policy known and what it is doing.
I run into people on a weekly basis that say "what is Don't Ask Don't Tell?" What do you mean -- they can still do that? People don't even know. I feel that by me sharing my story and by me doing this it can make a difference. It can make changes, because that's all we need. We need to get the American people fired up that this is still happening. This is wrong and we need to come on board with the rest of the other countries that we are allies with.