Yesterday, veterans discharged under the Military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy handcuffed themselves to the White House fence to protest the administration’s refusal to ending the policy before the end of the year. Park Police responded to the incident by closing down Lafayette Park and moving reporters “more than 300 feet back from the activists handcuffed to the fence in front of the north side of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue.” On Tuesday, “the U.S. Park Police and the U.S. Secret Service Uniformed Division provided contradictory accounts of who ordered the move,” but today, the Park Police officially apologized, saying it had “screwed up.” “We had some young officers who, when they were told to move the people back — which we typically do when we’re going to make arrests – they moved the people back a lot further than we typically do,” said Park Police spokesman David Schlosser. “That was a rookie, amateur error and they screwed up on that.”
This afternoon, The Advocate’s Kerry Eleveld joked with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about the incident and asked if the recent protests suggested to the White House that it had underestimated the LGBT community’s patience with the process to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Gibbs admitted that the Park Police engaged in “some overzealous actions” and reiterated the president’s long standing commitment to ending the policy. But when Evelveld asked if the administration is committed to letting the Pentagon study group complete its work before Congress acts on repeal legislation, Gibbs said that it was, effectively precluding any chance of ending the policy this year:
ELEVELD: He’s committed to letting the Pentagon work through it’s working group process until December 1st, is that true? He’s committed to that?
GIBBS: Yes. The president has set forth a process with the chair of the Joint Chiefs and with the Secretary of Defense to work through this issue.
ELEVELD: Before any legislative action is taken. That rules out legislative action this year.
GIBBS: Well, again — the House and the Senate are obviously a different branch of government. The President has a process and a proposal I think that he believes is the best way forward to seeing, again, the commitment that he’s made for many years in trying to — changing that law.
Indeed, with the military committed to maintaining the policy until it finished its review on December 1st, the White House has been reluctant to lobby moderate senators to include repeal legislation in this year’s defense authorization act.
During his State of the Union, however, Obama pledged, “This year — this year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. It’s the right thing to do.” Similarly, at the Human Rights Campaign fundraiser in October, the president said he understood activists’ frustration with the slow process of repeal and urged them to continue lobbying leaders.
“Now, I’ve said this before, I’ll repeat it again — it’s not for me to tell you to be patient, any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African Americans petitioning for equal rights half a century ago,” he said. “And that’s why it’s so important that you continue to speak out, that you continue to set an example, that you continue to pressure leaders — including me — and to make the case all across America,” Obama added.