Gay Advocates Take On McCain in D.C.

As a Senate vote looms on the repeal of "don’t ask, don’t tell," the military’s ban on open service for gays and lesbians, gay advocates are increasingly worried that Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain, could derail years of effort

Earlier Thursday, activists from Get EQUAL, an LGBT civil-disobedience organization, and H.E.R.O., an Arizona-based grassroots group of community organizers, interrupted a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing and demanded that McCain end his threat to filibuster the Defense Authorization Bill, where repeal language for DADT has been inserted.

H.E.R.O. member Jonathan Harris, of Phoenix, texted NEWSWEEK from the hearing room: “We feel embarrassed our senator would stand in the way of such basic equality.” The text said that through most of the meeting McCain “had his head down and kind of looked embarrassed.” Harris added in a later text that McCain had left before the session wrapped up and had not returned before the session ended, adding that security was vigilant but none of the protesters had been arrested.

The activists silently held up signs that said: “It’s not too late to change your legacy” and  “Senator McCain repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Do you want to be the next George Wallace?" McCain has been a particular source of concern and anger among gay-rights advocates for his perceived flip-flopping on the DADT issue.

“I think it’s sad that such a decorated war hero is showing such indecision and lack of courage,” texted Harris. Gay-rights organizations in recent weeks have been urging members to contact supporters of repeal, given McCain's ability to perhaps block it.  

McCain and other lawmakers also have expressed concern about other elements in the Defense Authorization Bill (where the repeal language for "don’t ask, don’t tell" is inserted), such as a provision that would allow female service members to get abortions on military bases as long as no federal money is used.  

The Arizona group protesting McCain says it will continue to dog the senator until he changes his stance. “Whether it is in Arizona or in our nation’s capitol, we will go anywhere, at any time of day to deliver the message to our Senator that he is standing on the wrong side of history and is betraying the patriotic men and women willing to risk their lives for their country,” wrote H.E.R.O. co-chair Jimmy Grounder in a statement.

Supporters of repeal realize they face stiff opposition. Politico has reported that “Senate Majority leader Harry Reid said he told Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky that the GOP can offer an amendment to strip the repeal language from the bill. ‘They can have a vote trying to take that out,’ Reid said. ‘But I think we should choose common sense over discrimination. We’re going to match our policy with our principles and finally say that in our country, everyone who steps up to serve our country should be welcomed.’”

Join the Discussion