'Don't ask, don't tell' protesters to appear in court

By Ed O'Keefe
Friday, March 18, 2011; 2:06 PM

Thirteen activists arrested last fall for chaining themselves to the White House fence in opposition to the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy are scheduled to appear in federal court Friday.

The protesters - including gay rights leaders, a Catholic priest and eight veterans discharged for violating the ban on openly gay troops - were arrested Nov. 15 and previously declined to plead guilty to violating the orders of a federal law enforcement officer. A conviction on the charge carries a maximum six-month jail sentence.

It's the first time since at least 2006 that protesters have faced the charge, according to Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia.

Although not unusual, protesters chaining themselves to the White House fence is not as common as other First Amendment exercises on federal property in the District, according to the U.S. Park Police. Protesters are more commonly charged with violating regulations pertaining to the area, number of participants, and size of signs used in demonstrations, said Sgt. David Schlosser, a Park Police spokesman.

Mara Boyd, 29, one of the protesters who will appear in court Friday, was discharged by the Air Force in 2003 for violating the ban. She said she chained herself to the White House fence in November "to apply some pressure" on lawmakers and President Obama to end the policy.

"I was tired of empty promises and delays and politicians - including our president - telling me and other gay veterans and service members to just wait your turn, that other things are more pressing," Boyd said Thursday.

The president signed legislation in December that will end the ban on gays in the military after the Pentagon trains the force on changes in personnel policy and after Obama, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, certify in writing that the military is ready to proceed. Neither the White House nor Pentagon has said when that might occur.

Commanders, chaplains and other officials began receiving instructions last month on the changes and are training the rank and file stationed around the world, according to the Pentagon. Most of the training is expected to be completed by June.

Gay rights activists worry, however, that commanders opposed to ending "don't ask, don't tell" may attempt to subvert it by using other disciplinary methods against people they suspect are gay. They point to the case of a 21-year-old sailor stationed near Charleston, S.C., who is contesting plans to discharge him for dereliction of duty after he was found asleep in bed with another male sailor.

Once the law takes effect, the military will permit troops discharged for violating the ban to reenlist. Boyd said she plans to do so "as soon as I can walk into a recruiting office."

"I want to finish serving my country," she said.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company