Friday, October 21, 2005

Gay protesters enter Naval Academy grounds

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From NBC4, Washington, D.C. Gay Protesters Enter Naval Academy Grounds Group Denied Request To Talk To Midshipmen POSTED: 12:58 pm EDT October 21, 2005 ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- About 40 demonstrators passed without incident through the gates of the Naval Academy Friday, even though they had been warned that they risked arrest if they tried to take their protest against the military's ban on openly gay service members onto campus. The protesters, part of a Virginia-based gay rights group called Soulforce, said just being allowed on campus was a victory. "We're merely seeking the freedom to serve our country without having to lie to do it," said Soulforce member Jacob Reitan. The group had lunch in a visitor's cafeteria. They did not immediately speak with any midshipmen, as they had planned. Academy administrators were not available for comment on the apparent decision to allow the group onto campus. Among the protesters was former midshipmen Tommie Watkins, who was expelled from the academy in 1997 for being gay. Watkins now lives in Florida and says his visit to Annapolis was his first since being kicked out. He says the academy's policy against gays mostly reflected the fears of the leadership, not those of the midshipmen. "It's like, people know, we just lie about it," Watkins said. The group had asked academy officials to allow them to talk to midshipmen, but the request was denied. In a statement Thursday, public affairs officer Cmdr. Rob Gibbons, said "a service member's sexual orientation is considered a personal and private matter. We do not ask, and service members are not required to reveal, their sexual orientation." However, the academy also said its policy was to "decline any special interest groups from coming aboard the academy to advocate their own causes, business interests and advance personal agendas." The protest was a test-run for Soulforce's planned national tour next spring of campuses where gays and lesbians are threatened with expulsions. Most of them are religious schools, but Reitan said visits are also planned to the other service academies: West Point, the Air Force Academy and the Coast Guard Academy. A group of Soulforce protesters earlier this year visited Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., a Christian school founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell. Reitan called that visit productive and said Falwell even invited Soulforce protesters to a worship service with students. "I hope most schools won't react in the way the Naval Academy has," Reitan said Thursday. The protest Friday was the latest challenge to the Naval Academy's stance toward gay service members. Last year, the Academy's Alumni Association voted for the second time to reject a proposed gay and lesbian alumni chapter. The group, San Francisco-based USNA Out, is the only group ever denied affiliation by the school's Alumni Association. Previous Stories: October 20, 2005: Naval Academy Warns Protesters Article Source: Washington Post article available at: article/2005/10/21/AR2005102101270.html?nav=rss_metro Updated 10/21/2005 9:35PM