The doors at the D.C. Armed Forces Recruitment Office were shut for two openly gay students attempting to enlist Tuesday morning.
The office doors of the recruitment center were locked at 10:30 a.m. Posted office hours stated that they would be open. The two students were protesting the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy by trying to enter the recruitment office and enlist while announcing their homosexuality.
The protest was organized by the Right to Serve campaign, a gay-rights movement focusing on the U.S. military’s policy of not accepting openly gay recruits.
“An Army man remarked to me that (the Navy’s recruitment officers) aren’t there half the time, but that wasn’t the case yesterday, and I don’t believe that’s the case today,” said Alexandra Douglas-Barrera, one of the two openly gay students attempting to enlist.
A recruitment officer at the naval recruitment office refused comment Tuesday on why the building was closed during the demonstration.
Mandy Craig, the other student trying to enlist, and Douglas-Barrera said they were especially frustrated because lights were on and voices could be heard from inside the Navy’s recruitment office’s locked door, but there was no response after knocking several times.
About 25 student supporters, including students from GW, Georgetown, University of Maryland, American and George Mason, staged a protest in the lobby of the recruitment office after Craig and Douglas-Barrera were turned away.
This type of reaction from the military is not uncommon, said sophomore Amy Dorfman, advocacy chair for Allied for Pride – GW’s student organization advocating rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning individuals.
“They had about 75 people protesting in New York for the same campaign last week, and the recruitment center completely closed down for the day,” Dorfman said.
Allied for Pride attended the protest because of its belief that everyone should have an equal opportunity to serve, Dorfman said.
“I think the military having discrimination in their agenda is unacceptable,” she said. “Everyone deserves the right to serve.”
Although Right to Serve demonstrations have included 25 arrests, the action ended peacefully Tuesday when officials asked the protesters to leave.
Adam Bink, Right to Serve’s lead organizer for the D.C. area, said similar protests have been held in 13 cities. He said the Armed Forces has turned away all 30 would-be recruits, despite published statistics of vast under-recruiting.
“The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy is hurting our military,” Bink said. “An estimated 40,000 gays and lesbians would be willing to join if not for the DADT policy.”
The Right to Serve campaign is funded by a gay rights organization called Soulforce. According to Soulforce’s Web site, it is a group dedicated to the freedom of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression.
Douglas-Barrera said her desire to serve came from her politically charged upbringing in the D.C. area.
“My family revered and respected all service members and their sacrifices, and everyone deserves the chance to earn that respect,” she said.
Craig, a graduate student from American University, said she was inspired to enlist because of her partner, Chance Thomas. Craig said Thomas was named “Sailor of the Year” and earned many prestigious awards, including the Purple Heart, for her five-and-a-half year service in the Navy despite being openly gay to her peers.
Graham Murphy, the communication director of Right to Serve and a 2004 GW graduate, said Douglas-Barrera and Craig are serious about their desire to enlist.
“This is not a symbolic gesture,” he said. “These are true patriots, willing to put their lives on the line for their country.”
Murphy said Right to Serve remained hopeful, even after the protesters began leaving the recruitment office located on 14th and L streets.
“I feel the event was absolutely a success,” Murphy said. “We were unable to enlist Mandy and Alex, but I feel like we raised awareness in the D.C. area. We passed out over 800 flyers, and we had a good response from the street.”
Will Cobb, a write-in candidate for Ward 6’s D.C. Council seat, attended the protest and spoke in support of repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
“Gay men and women across this country are doing great deeds of service in their communities everyday,” Cobb said. “How can we prevent them from serving in one of our most-honored traditions, the call to arms, protecting our liberty, freedom and our very way of life?”