Protesting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

What follows are two first-hand accounts of the sit-in Tuesday evening which led to three University of Richmond students being arrested in protest of the military’s ban on openly gay and lesbian citizens serving their country.

The sit-in took place at the Armed Forces Recruiting Center in Willow Lawn shopping center on Broad Street. Jacob Neal and Jessica Miller, two openly gay students, each attempted to sign up for military service Tuesday. Miller’s interview with a recruitment officer Tuesday morning ended when she revealed her sexuality.

Later that day, Jacob Neal had an interview with a recruitment officer from the U.S. Navy. Accompanied by about 20 supporters from the UR community (including students, staff, and faculty), Neal asked and answered a variety of questions regarding potential service in the Navy.

He then noted that he had one more concern, whether as a gay man that would present any issues in the Navy. The officer replied that he was not allowed to ask about any potential recruit’s sexuality, but now that the information had been volunteered, that he would not be able to process Neal’s application, thus ending the interview.

At this point Neal responded by briefly describing the injustice of this policy and some of the ongoing efforts to persuade the military to change the policy, and stated that the assembled gathering planned to sit-in in the office in protest. The recruitment officer responded that he understood what the group was trying to do, but that eventually the police would be called.

Neal’s interview lasted from roughly 6 to 6:15 p.m. By the time the police came and arrests were made at 9:30 p.m., there were still about 10 supporters on-hand in addition to the arrested students. It should be noted that the recruitment officers were very respectful and professional towards the protesters, and even asked questions of Neal about the history and progress of attempts to change the policy.

The students involved are affiliated with the national organization Soul Force. Jacob Neal provided additional details about the action in a note to supporters sent early this morning:

Yesterday, as the Soulforce Richmond City Campaign Organizer of the ‘Right to Serve’ campaign against ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ to lift the ban on open lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, I staged a nonviolent protest–a sit-in–at the naval recruitment center with the help of 20-25 University of Richmond community members. After I was deemed ineligible for service in the United States Armed Forces because of my sexual orientation, my supporters and I , unwilling to take ‘no’ for an answer, engaged in a nonviolent sit-in demonstration. We remained, seated on the floor of the office, from my 6pm appointment time until 9pm when we were warned that we would be arrested should we remain. The majority of supporters were not able to be arrested yesterday and left at this time, but Kristen Tilley and I remained, willing to put our bodies on the line for the estimated
64,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender service men and women who are forced to live every day in fear and hiding that their identities will be exposed. We were then greeted by 40 police officers, 2 police dogs, and a police ‘school bus’ which transported us to the Henrico County Magistrate’s Office with a 4 patrol car escort. After processing we were released on a personal recognizance bond of $1000 (each) around midnight last night and are required to appear before a judge this morning or risk warrants for our arrest being issued.

In court this morning, a trial date of November 13 for the students was set.

The best media coverage of this action so far has been on WRIC (ABC). The RTD carried a brief item about the protest which quoted none of the participants this morning, but an updated account by Peter Bacque with some brief quotes (and an inaccurate tally of participants) is now on their website. More detailed coverage in the Richmond Collegian (UR) and the Commonwealth Times (VCU) is expected to appear shortly.

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Published in: on October 12, 2006 at 6:20 pm  Leave a Comment