U.S. Naval Academy Threatens Arrest. Soulforce Equality Riders Undeterred.

Contact: Jacob Reitan, Equality Ride Director
Office: 434-384-7696 Cell: 952-212-8311, jake@equalityride.com
Contact: Robyn Murphy, Soulforce Communications
Cell: 314-712-7431
Soulforce, PO Box 3195, Lynchburg, VA 24503

Annapolis, MD. October 18, 2005: When the Soulforce Equality Riders arrive this Friday at the U.S. Naval Academy to protest the military’s "Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell" policy, Deputy Superintendent Captain Helen F. Dunn makes it clear that freedom of speech is only allowed off Academy Grounds.* Equality Ride director Jacob Reitan is also clear, "The Naval Academy has over 4,500 midshipmen in training, none of whom are allowed to come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people. This is government funded and sanctioned discrimination and it must end. We’re disappointed that they refuse open dialogue but our presence is necessary. We want the closeted leadership and student body to know we stand with them."

In the spirit of the Freedom Rides of the 1950s and 60s, people from all over the Washington D.C. area will arrive at Gate 1 (corner of Randall and King George Avenues) for an 11:30 a.m. press conference and demonstration of nonviolent resistance.

Accompanying the group is Rev. Tommy Watkins. In 1997 Rev. Watkins was a midshipman at the Academywho excelled in his coursework and served as President of his class. But after his commanding officers learned he was gay, Rev. Watkins was forced to leave the Academy, swiftly bringing about the end of his military career.

Adding insult to injury, the federal government’s tax-subsidized campaign against Watkins did not end after his discharge. Instead they engaged Watkins in a three year legal battle over the costs invested in his education. Rev. Watkins eventually prevailed but the experience was difficult. Rev. Watkin’s story makes clear the purpose of the Equality Ride. "As long as anti-gay policies are in effect, this same sort of discrimination could happen again at any moment to any other closeted midshipmen," Jacob Reitan stated. "That is why the GLBT community and all American citizens must dedicate themselves to ending ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, returning the Naval Academy to the core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment which they boldly declare in their school motto."

The Naval Academy action is part of the national Soulforce Equality Ride, visiting select institutions of higher learning that ban openly GLBT student enrollment and activities. The full ride is open to young people age 18-28 and will take place in March and April 2006. For more information go to www.soulforce.org or www.equalityride.com.

Soulforce is a national interfaith movement committed to ending spiritual violence perpetuated by religious policies and teachings against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Soulforce employs the nonviolent principles of Gandhi and King to the liberation of sexual and gender minorities. Soulforce was founded in 1998.

* quoting from a letter received by Soulforce from Captain Dunn:

"The Naval Academy supports and defends every citizen’s right of freedom of speech. Your group is free to conduct its activities off of Naval Academy property. No protest or gathering will be allowed on Academy grounds. Furthermore, no member of Equality Ride will be allowed to interview midshipmen, faculty or staff, as this will be disruptive to the operation of the Naval Academy. As such, we will not approve your specific requests to meet with midshipmen or attend the formal parade."

"Be advised that accessing the Academy grounds for the purpose of protesting or engaging midshipmen, faculty and staff, may subject you to arrest and prosecution by the appropriate Federal authorities."

Helen F. Dunn, Captain, U.S. Navy, Deputy Superintendent/Chief of Staff

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