H.E.R.O staged a sit-in today at Senator McCain's
Phoenix, Tempe, Arizona office. This is the second sit-in by the group in less than a month. According to statement from the group:
Quarter Master 3rd Class (QM-3) Shellaine Gokey served her country proudly in the United States Navy for four years before she was discharged under Don't Ask, Don't Tell in 2001. Gokey states "Don't ask Don't tell policy is not fair and is a hindrance for our military personnel. I was a good sailor and I loved being part of the Navy. I was dedicated, and if not expelled for my sexual orientation, I would likely have been a career sailor. The Navy loses some of its best and brightest every time DADT is brought to bear."
Gokey will be asking to speak to Senator McCain about the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy along with four friends. Gokey and friends will not leave McCain's office until the Senator meets with his constituents and stands behind his 2006 quote that "The day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, 'Senator, we ought to change the policy,' then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it."
The sit-in began at 8:00 AM this morning. As of this afternoon, the sit-in continued without any arrests.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates as they become available.
Read the letter Gokey wants to deliver to Senator McCain after the jump with updates.
Senator John McCain
241 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-0001
Subject: Repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
Dear Senator McCain,
As your constituent, I am writing to urge you to support legislation in the United States Senate to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" statute governing military service by lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans.
I want to tell you my story and what I went through:
My name is Shellaine Gokey and I served in the U.S. Navy from 1997-2001.
In June of 1997 I was working at Bank of America pushing papers with no future plans. I was fortunate enough at that time of my life to have somebody wake me up and say "What do you want to do with your life". I knew I loved the ocean and thoughts of being out to sea always intrigued me. In June I enlisted myself into the Navy as a non-designated seaman. I had no idea what I wanted to in the Navy; I just wanted to be a part of something great.
When I went to boot camp I ended loving it so much I never wanted to leave. There was something about the camaraderie I loved. Luck would have it after boot camp; my first tour was taking me to Yokosuka, Japan to be on the 7th Fleet's command ship, USS Blue Ridge. I was so excited to go somewhere new and exciting.
Being on the Blue Ridge made it possible to travel all around the world and see new places. Since I was undesignated in the Navy, I did all the maintenance and dirty work. I remember getting off of my shift and being caked with paint and dirt. I loved it; I was able to take pride in something I did. I stayed undesignated for about 2 years until I found what I really wanted to do as my career.
A quartermaster is a rate where you navigate and plot the vessel in water. It became my job to plot our position in the water and advise the officers what direction they needed to go. I had the cool breeze in my face and salty water in my hair. There is nothing like standing on a bridge of a ship and watching the water go by. My job was never an 8 to 5 job; it was more like a 24 hour job working 4 shifts a day. I never minded though, I couldn't wait to do my job. I was good at it too; not to long after I made 3rd class I was asked to teach the up and coming officers how to use celestial navigation to get their qualifications. Not too bad considering there were 4 other people more senior to me.
During my time on the Blue Ridge I had my relationships but they were kept to me. It was really hard for me, because I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I started dating someone on the same ship seriously after awhile. Since we were in the same department it was hard to keep our relationship serious secret. We both were sent to the Master at Arms more than once about our sexual orientation. Someone had "told" but they never had proof. This turned into be very taxing for both of us. The thing was we were not doing anything different than any other straight couple except we weren't supposed to show our feelings openly.
On October 12, 2000 I re-enlisted for another two years to serve on the newest aircraft carrier, Harry S. Truman. As an enlisted seaman, you can receive two insignias, the Surface Warfare and Air Warfare insignia. These insignias represent that you are trained and qualified to perform duties aboard warships. I received my Surface Warfare pin on the Blue Ridge, the test was oral and written and it took 4 hours to complete. Most military members take 5-10 years to get these insignias; I received mine in 3. It was a great moment for me that I still carry with me.
After taking a couple weeks rest back home with the family, I bought myself a new car and went to my next command in Virginia. The Harry S. Truman was the newest aircraft carrier for the Navy. The ship was about to go out for its 6 month tour to Europe. This however was changed and we ending up serving in the Gulf war instead. You would think tooling around in circles for 8 months would be boring and monotonous but I loved it. Since I came from a vessel that was always at sea I had a leg up on the other Quartermasters. None of the other Quartermasters had been at sea so I ended up being their trainer.
I enjoyed it very much and developed very close relationships. However, being so close to my fellow shipmates, it is hard to keep my personal life a secret. I ended up not keeping my secret and I told some of my fellow shipmates. Their response was good and they had no issues with it. I also told my Master Chief in charge and she had no issues with it.
After getting done with our now 9 month tour in the Gulf, we headed home. My partner and I decided to get married when I got back home. I told a few of my friends on ship, including my Master Chief. Again there were no issues presented to me about me being gay and getting married. However after I returned back from my honeymoon I was reported to the JAG office for misconduct. My fellow shipmates that I trusted so deeply turned me in for being gay.
At this point in my career I was tired of hiding and being put in this situation. I was sick about the secrets, sick about the betrayals, sick about facing. In the end I declared that I was gay.
I did receive an honorable discharge and no negative marks on my record. However, something was taken from me, my honor. Being in the US Navy was the greatest honor in my life. I was proud to be sailor in the U.S. Navy.
Don't ask Don't tell policy is not fair and is a hindrance for our military personnel. I was a good sailor and I loved being part of the Navy. I was dedicated, and if not expelled for my sexual orientation, I would likely have been a career sailor. The Navy loses some of its best and brightest every time DADT is brought to bear.
I am requesting to speak to you, either in person at your Tempe office or by teleconference from your location to your Tempe office on Tuesday May 11th at 8:30 am.
H.E.R.O. staged a similar protest on April 26, resulting in the arrest of Meg Sneed, Jimmy Gruender, Lee Walters, (Lonnie) Allen Howard-Stidham and Luisa Valdez.
H.E.R.O. posted an update on their website:
We were also bringing boxes of supplies for the troops. (Check our notes for items you can gather and drop off.)
After delivering the boxes, Shelly then asked to speak with Sen. McCain, following up from a letter sent last week requesting an in-person or phone meeting today. We were of course informed that the Senator was unavailable. And, we gave our standard reply - we'll wait!
The hours passed - six of them to be exact. But during those hours we learned alot about Sen. McCain's Tempe office:
They told us "We have no idea how to contact Sen. McCain." They actually have no direct access - they have to go through handlers. Talk about controlling beauracracy.
They had no clue how to respond to us. And they couldn't get anyone on the line to tell them what to do with us. (By this point we started feeling sorry for them.)
Then, they were discussing among themselves - but in front of us- what they would do if we didn't leave by 5pm. ... They thought they might have to stay with us, since they couldn't leave us in their office alone.
Our issue is not with the Senator's staff - anymore than it is with the police. Our issue is with the policy.
Finally, we received word from Allen in DC that he had met with two of McCain's Executive Staff. At this point, we decided the best course of action was to take the office manager's offer of arranging a meeting - and hold our efforts off until another day.
So we did, we accepted her offer to call us within 24 hours to arrange a meeting. And, we promised her we would collect more supplies for our soldiers overseas.
Today ended differently than we thought it would - but it isn't over. Not until DADT has been repealed and LGBT soldiers are allowed to serve with honesty and integrity!
Stay tuned... in the next 24 hours... there's more to come.