Wrap-up: A day in D.C. on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

On April 28, six activists and constituents made their way to the Capitol Hill offices of Sens. Richard Burr and Kay Hagan and Reps. Larry Kissell and Mike McIntyre.

Matt Comer, Randy Floyd and Lacey Williams of CRANE were joined by fellow organizers Ryan Burris, James Elks and Melissa Siegel.

Since March, CRANE and activists across the state have worked to build awareness on the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) through Charlotte’s March on Myrick, Raleigh’s Stand with Honor and Wilmington’s March on McIntyre campaigns. The goal: Collect 13,500 plastic toy soldiers — each representing a gay or lesbian patriot discharged under DADT — and deliver them as a stark, visual reminder of the cost of DADT to our elected officials.

At a bright, and early start of 8 a.m., we made our way from their hotel to downtown Washington, D.C. and the Capitol Building. There, we set up our display of just one set of 13,500 soldiers we’ve collected for Burr, Hagan, Kissell, McIntyre and Myrick. We spoke with passers-by about DADT, many who already supported repeal and others who did not. In one exchange, Matt Comer spoke with a group of Christian high school students whose adult chaperone believed “homosexuals shouldn’t serve at all.” Asking how it is right, just or fair to force a person to live in fear and lies, the Christian chaperone responded: “There is no fear in the Lord.” Convincing the adult chaperone of the value of a DADT repeal was fruitless but standing on Capitol Hill grounds speaking to these Christian young folks was well worth it: If they haven’t engaged LGBT issues with LGBT people, they have now. And, if there were one or two closeted LGBT youth there, our group was there to say: “You are not alone.”

As we met with the offices of our elected officials, we were able to deliver a portion — one-tenth of the 13,500 to be exact — to our two senators and two representatives. (Half of Myrick’s 13,500 were delivered on April 1.) Each of the offices we visited responded with either surprise or interest to our 1,350 soldiers. It made an impact — a constituent message unlike the many postcards, emails and letters they receive on a daily basis and one they won’t forget anytime soon… especially when the rest of their soldiers can be delivered at a later date.

Here’s the recap from each office visit…

Richard Burr

Raleigh’s Melissa Siegel and Wilmington’s James Elks met with Republican Sen. Richard Burr’s Defense Legislative Fellow Vaughan Byrum and Military Legislative Fellow Kevin Kane. Although the meeting went reasonably well, Siegel reported the two staffers seemed quite confrontational, eager to defend DADT and uncomfortable with the thought of gay people serving openly and honestly. The staffers told Siegel and Elks that Burr would wait until after the Department of Defense’s study on DADT¬† to make his decision on repeal.

Mike McIntyre

Representing the Seventh District of North Carolina, Mike McIntyre is a conservative Democrat who has often taken on positions harmful to the LGBT community. Wilmington residents Ryan Burris and James Elks, along with Charlotte resident Matt Comer, met with Rep. Mike McIntyre, who said he would wait until after the Department of Defense study on DADT before making his decision. Elks shared his personal story regarding his attempts to join the military. McIntyre seemed genuinely interested. Regardless, McIntyre stands by the assertion he made when last meeting with Burris and Elks in Wilmington this February: If a DADT repeal came up for vote today, McIntyre would vote against it.

Kay Hagan

Constituents Ryan Burris, Matt Comer, Randy Floyd and Melissa Siegel met with Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan’s Legislative Assistant Julie Holzhueter. Hagan, who announced April 14 she firmly supports a repeal of DADT, has yet to sign on as a co-sponsor of the Senate’s Military Readiness Enhancement Act as introduced by Sen. Joe Leiberman on March 3. Constituents presented Holzheuter with the 1,350 soldiers and urged the staffer to relay our message to the senator: Please take leadership on this issue and sign on as a co-sponsor of the bill to repeal DADT.

Larry Kissell

Kissell constituents Randy Floyd and Lacey Williams — along with Matt Comer, who works in Kissell’s district — met with Legislative Assistant John Tripp. Floyd has previously met with Tripp and Rep. Kissell, a Democrat who represents the sprawling Eighth District including portions of Charlotte, Fayetteville and Ft. Bragg. In his previous meetings, Floyd had learned the congressman fully supported ending discrimination in the workplace (although he had yet to publicly support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act). Constituents urged Tripp to remind the congressman of his principles and stand by them on the issue of DADT. Tripp responded positively to our constituent message of 1,350 soldiers. Later in the day, constituents received good news regarding Kissell, although not on the issue of DADT. The congressman will finally support ENDA, although it isn’t clear whether he will be a co-sponsor.

Press coverage from the day

Congress.org: Activists push on Don’t Ask issue

The Georgia Voice: DADT pressure continues

Photos from the day