Gay-Rights Protesters Stage Sit-In at Nancy Pelosi's Office: Leaders Stand Ready to Bail Out Activists

Activists are arrested after protesting outside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office on March 18. (Photo: Joel Silberman via getEqual)

According to gay-rights advocate Paul Yandura, activists have staged a sit-in at Nancy Pelosi's district and Capitol Hill offices. The groups are fighting for her to take the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to the floor for a vote, Yandura told NEWSWEEK as he drove toward his home in D.C. to meet with other activists. Yandura says he has collected enough bail through GetEqual, a new LGBTQ activism group, for everyone who may need it. "We have plenty, and we have sources ready to provide more if necessary."

The proposed bill would prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity for civilian nonreligious employers with more than 15 employees. Yandura claims that "both offices were swarmed, and the demand was made that she bring it to a vote." Pelosi's offices, according to gay-rights advocates, were also "blog-swarmed" throughout the day with requests calling for bringing ENDA to a vote, and with calls and e-mails.

The civil disobedience comes on the heels of the arrest of Lt. Dan Choi earlier today, who, with a fellow lieutenant, handcuffed himself to the White House gate. Activists are still unsure where Choi is being held.

According to a statement released by GetEqual, which was formed this week, gay advocates have staged a sit-in at Pelosi's San Francisco and D.C. offices. "The action was led by Robin McGehee and Kip Williams, cofounders of GetEqual, a new lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer activist community," the statement says (McGehee probably didn't make the sit-in; she was the first person arrested at the White House today).

"We understand that Speaker Pelosi and the rest of Congress are in the midst of passing health-care-reform legislation," said McGehee in the statement. "However, health care for many LGBTQ families is intimately connected to employment protections and we cannot wait a minute longer for those protections. We've already waited far too long."

The group appears to be convinced that the administration and Congress are not moving forward with gay-rights legislation, despite Obama's call in the State of the Union for the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and assurances that ENDA is being explored. This week, however, The Advocate published an article in which Barney Frank claimed that the administration wanted to push the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" into next year.

According to GetEqual's statement: "ENDA legislation has been stuck in the House Committee on Education and Labor since last year. Contrary to what has been told to many LGBTQ allies in Congress, The Hill reported in December that Pelosi assured Democrats she would not bring any controversial bills to the floor for a vote this year."

But activists say that politics should take a back seat to human rights and basic safety. "A recent study on discrimination found that 97 percent of transgender people who responded had experienced some level of harassment and 26 percent had been fired simply for being transgender," said David McElhatton, who is described in the statement as a transgender activist who participated in the San Francisco action today. "We thought we had an ally in Nancy Pelosi, but she has taken our equality for granted. We are not going to let up on her until she takes action to ensure that we are all protected in the workplace."

According to some activists, those in the San Francisco office are being arrested right now, and arrests have begun in D.C. Calls to Speaker Pelosi's office have not been returned. Check back for more developments.

Gay-Rights Protesters Stage Sit-In at Nancy Pelosi's Office: Leaders Stand Ready to Bail Out Activists | News