Soulforce’s Equality Ride to go to the Naval Academy

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SOULFORCE MEDIA ALERT: September 21, 2005
Press Advisory: Equality Ride to go to the Naval Academy
Contact: Jacob Reitan, Equality Ride, Director
Soulforce, PO Box 3195, Lynchburg, VA 24503
Office: 434-384-7696 Cell: 952-212-8311, jake@equalityride.com www.equalityride.com/navy
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Annapolis, MD – On October 21, concerned citizens from around the Washington, D.C. area will arrive by bus at the United States Naval Academy to take a stand against the military’s "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy, banning the enlistment of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender midshipmen.

The direct action at the Naval Academy is part of Soulforce’s "Equality Ride," a nationwide bus tour to institutions of higher learning that discriminate against GLBT people. "The Naval Academy has over 4,500 midshipmen in training, none of which are allowed to come out as GLBT people," said Jacob Reitan, Director of the Equality Ride. "This is government funded and sanctioned discrimination and it must end."

The Equality Ride to the Naval Academy will provide an opportunity for those concerned about the military’s "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell" policy to dialogue with those who live under it. "We are hoping that people from all around the DC area will take the day off of work or classes to stand with us as we fight for justice," said the Rev. Dr. Mel White, Executive Director of Soulforce.

"Soulforce and the Equality Ride hope that military commanders, midshipmen at the Academy and other leaders in our armed forces will join us in speaking out against ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," Rev. White added. "The words of those inside the armed forces, and those who have previously served, have a great impact on decision-makers in our military and government. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is an insulting policy that is contrary to our national interests. We believe our men and women in uniform are ready and able to serve alongside openly gay Americans. We also anticipate we’ll learn as much during our visit to the Academy."

Amongst those taking a stand at the Naval Academy on October 21, will be the Rev. Tommie Watkins. In 1997, Rev. Watkins was a midshipmen at the Naval Academy who excelled in his course work and served as the President of his class. But after his commanding officers found out he was gay, Rev. Watkins was made to leave the academy, swiftly bringing an end to his military career. As Rev. Watkins states, "We should not be made to choose between our jobs and who we love."

But to add insult to injury, the federal government’s campaign against Rev. Watkins did not end after his discharge. Instead, they engaged Rev. Watkins in a three year legal battle for the money that had been invested in his education.

Rev. Watkins eventually succeeded in his legal battle but the experience was difficult. "The federal government’s three year legal battle sought to undermine who I am as a black gay clergyman," Rev. Watkins stated in reflecting on the event.

Rev. Watkins story makes clear the purpose of the Equality Ride to the Naval Academy. "As long as ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is in place the sort of discrimination Rev. Watkins faced, could happen again at any moment to any other closeted midshipmen," Jacob Reitan stated. "That is why as a GLBT community, and as an American people, we must dedicate ourselves to ending ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and return the Naval Academy to the core values of ‘Honor, Courage and Commitment’ which they boldly declare in their school motto."

Important information on the event:

– Register for the event today. Training for the action to take place from 7 – 9 p.m. on Thursday Oct. 20 at the Human Rights Campaign building located at 1640 Rhode Island Avenue NW
– Buses for the Naval Academy will leave from the HRC building at 9:30 a.m
– For more information or to register for the event please go to www.equalityride.com/navy

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