Two women were ready to join the Navy on Tuesday, but the Navy wasn't ready for them.
Continuing a 30-city campaign of protest against the ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' policy that bans openly gay people from serving in the military, the two women -- one a lesbian, the other bisexual -- attempted to enlist in the Navy Tuesday morning at the military recruiting office near the corner of 14th and L streets NW.
The campaign, running under the banner of ''Right to Serve'' and sponsored by Lynchburg, Va.-based Soulforce, has seen gay, lesbian and bisexual potential enlistees -- all planning to announce their sexual orientation during the application process -- arriving at recruiting offices to face everything from closed doors to arrest. Tuesday's action, with Alexandra Douglas-Barrera, an 18-year-old lesbian journalism student at the University of Maryland, and Mandy Rae Craig, a 24-year-old, bisexual, public policy graduate student at American University, met with a closed door.
Right to Serve's Adam Bink speaks outside the L Street military recruitment office.
(Photo by Todd Franson)
But the meaning behind the door was open to interpretation.
''They've shut the door on two young Americans who want to serve their country,'' Adam Bink told press and about a dozen allied protesters in a hallway of the recruiting center. Bink is the local Right to Serve organizer.
Sgt. Eric Reed, across the hall in the Army recruiting office, appeared surprised that the Bink would charge that the Navy recruiters were intentionally blocking Craig and Douglas-Barrera from attempting to enlist, saying that the Navy recruiters were involved in some off-site testing Tuesday morning. Interrupted by telephone, he repeated as much on the call, adding: ''They are here protesting. … It's just very peaceful.''
Graham Murphy, another local Right to Serve organizer, echoed that sentiment, comparing D.C. sensibilities to those in Greensboro, N.C., where police were called immediately, arresting four would-be enlistees and five of their supporters. In Washington, conversely, the recruiting center sits across the street from a gay bar, the Green Lantern.
Petty Officer Paul H. Gibbs Jr., one of the two Navy recruiters assigned to the L Street office, did not return a request for clarification by Metro Weekly deadline Tuesday.
Nearly two hours after the start of the protest, which began with speeches on the sidewalk, the protesters remained as a relaxed crowd in the lobby. Among them lay their posters reading, ''65,000 Troops Need You to Break the Silence,'' ''Let Me Serve,'' ''Orientation Does Not Limit Patriotism,'' and similar messages.
Regardless of why the Navy door was closed, the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy makes clear that a potential enlistee disclosing a non-heterosexual orientation is not welcome in the military. Craig and Douglas-Barrera -- as well as other supporters on hand, including Ward 6 Independent City Council candidate and Coast Guard veteran Will Cobb -- are insistent that this discriminatory policy is a bad one for America.
''Basically, [I offer the Navy] an undergraduate degree in political science, where I studied intelligence, and a commitment to my country,'' Craig told Metro Weekly on the eve of her enlistment attempt. ''We can set the standard for service. We can be examples.'' Craig has set something of an example already, giving more than 900 hours in community service as an AmeriCorps volunteer.
''I'm half Columbian, fluent in Spanish. I feel like that would be of use to [the military],'' says Douglas-Barrera. ''I feel like I'm really lucky to be an American. I'd like to give back and show my appreciation for the country I love.''
Cobb, who is straight, offered his support not only as a Coast Guard veteran, but as the Coast Guard Academy's highest-ranked cadet in his class in 1993.
''We're going to get you there one of these days,'' he said to Craig and Douglas-Barrera, calling it ''unacceptable'' that gay Americans are not allowed to serve openly in the military, when the military is supposed to instill honesty and integrity in its ranks. ''I hope you'll be serving in the front lines of the 'War on Terror.'''
Bink underlined the message of Tuesday's action by calling for support for H.R. 1059, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2005, introduced March 2 by Rep. Martin Meehan (D-Mass.). Meehan's legislation aims to replace the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy with a non-discriminatory policy. The bill has 122 co-sponsors.
Prior to the event, Bink emphasized that this protest action should not be seen as anti-military. It's just the opposite, he says.
''I support the military. Number one, I'm doing this because this policy is wrong for the military. We kick out thousands of people while we're under-recruiting,'' he said.
''It's outdated. It's wrong for the military and for LGBT individuals who want to serve.''
For more information on the Right to Serve effort, visit www.righttoserve.org.