GetEqual's Robin McGehee has been invited by the White House to the signing of the DADT repeal law.
What does it mean that this mother of two, who has protested against governmental inaction, including that of the White House and President Obama, suffering arrest and detention, and peril of jail time on numerous occasions, has been invited to the signing of the repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell law by the White House?
For those who had said that the activities of Robin and GetEqual were an insult to the White House and to the President and the Administration, clearly it means they were wrong.
According to Melanie Nathan, of LezGetReal.com,
Those who know the small Get EQUAL team can also attest to the fact that this recognition of their part flies well in the face of critics who are still doubtful of the importance of grass root action and civil disobedience in the American process.
I think this is exactly right. Speaking up for your rights and demanding recognition of your humanity gains you respect. As we celebrate this milestone in achieving our civil rights, the work of Robin and GetEqual deserves much honor and recognition. The White House says so.
There is much about GetEqual that needs to change in order to achieve its full potential. But it cannot be denied that, in less than a year of existence, GetEqual has created dozens of direct actions and protests that channeled and illuminated the frustrations of the LGBT community in a way that helped to bring our plight to the attention of the media and the American people.
While Robin certainly did not do this alone, she is, for better or for worse, the image of the organization as well as its leader. She has become a symbol of the community's impulse to speak up, rather than sit idly by, as LGBT rights are sidelined because they are politically inconvienient.
I spoke with Robin this afternoon, and she noted how many others, who did not receive an invitation, deserved to be at the bill signing. In fact, she debated about whether to go to the bill signing, since the compromise repeal bill leaves so much remaining to be done to make military service inclusive of its gay servicemembers.
Not only Robin, however, but her children Sebastian and Jackson were invited to the ceremony. Jackson is a bit too young for sitting through a long ceremony, but Sebastian is old enough to attend and understand the significance of the event. That invitation to her children, who are the reason that Robin became involved seriously in activism, made Robin pause. She thought it would be wonderful for Sebastian, who has so often been driven to the airport to say goodbye to his mom, flying off to various parts of the country to participate in actions, to fly off himself this time, and to attend the making of history at the signing of the DADT repeal bill.
Apparently, the way it happened is that someone from Organizing For America reached out to GetEqual's Heather Cronk, and asked her for a list of potential invitees. Robin then talked to the White House's Brian Bond, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, who invited her and her children. Brian also expressed concern about Lt. Dan Choi, hoping that he would come to the signing. Robin said she would reach out to him as a friend, and also asked if other servicemembers who had chained themselves to the White House fence could be invited. He promised to try. Brian also told her that her invitation is "not conditional." He did ask she behave and have a good time, but he also said that he expected her to go out the very next day and "do what you do."
I also understand that Jonathan Lewis, one of the major funders of GetEqual, was invited to the signing.
Dan and Robin also lobbied for Autumn Sandeen, a trans servicemember who was chained to the White House fence, and GetEqual Board member, to get an invitation. She did and she will be coming. That is particularly important, given that the repeal of DADT does not change the rules under which trans service members are discharged, leaving our trans brothers and sisters still out in the cold in the military.
Robin was also trying to wangle an invite for Miriam Ben-shalom, who had chained herself to the White House fence 17 years ago, and for Evelyn Thomas, an African-American lesbian woman discharged under DADT, who runs the Sanctuary Project and who is also a GetEqual Board member.
Robin noted that she received a comment on her Facebook account, noting that "civil disobedience didn't put us at the back of the bus, now on to UAFA and ENDA and DOMA."
Most importantly, the invitation for Robin means that she will have something tangible to show Sebastian and Jackson -- her attendance at the White House at this historic moment -- and to say "here's what leaving the PTA and you, my children, meant." After all, Sebastian and Jackson are the reason Robin became seriously involved in activism.
The moment Robin became seriously involved was when she was discharged as President of her childrens' school PTA because she was quoted in an newspaper speaking out against California's anti-gay Prop 8. The Catholic school knew that she and her partner were lesbians, and they were okay with that, but they couldn't tolerate gay people speaking up for their rights. They told her she could keep her children in school, but that she could not participate in school support activities. She told them nothing doing, that she wasn't the kind of parent to sit on the sidelines. The school told her they didn't want her around, so she found another school for her children.
When he was told, Sebastian was so upset to be separated from his friends. He cried bitterly, and said "tell them I'll be a good boy and let me go back to school." But the school was unrelenting. They could tolerate gay people who were quiet, but not gay people who spoke up for equality.
And so it is that Robin, and Sebastian, both activists in their own way, will be sitting at the historic bill signing tomorrow. As Robin said, of the White House invitation being extended to her children, as well as herself, "That fact is humbling and heals my heart after the last two years."
Enjoy it, Robin and Sebastian. There are many people who will be thinking of you tomorrow, who are grateful for you both.
Jillian Weiss is on the Board of Directors of GetEqual