Joe Mirabella

BREAKING: 2nd Sit-in at McCain's AZ Office to Protest DADT

Filed By Joe Mirabella | May 11, 2010 8:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Arizona, DADT repeal, Don't Ask Don't Tell, John McCain, protests, Shellaine Gokey, sit-in, Tempe

H.E.R.O staged a sit-in today at Senator McCain's Phoenix, Tempe, Arizona office. This is the second sit-in by the group in less than a month. mccain_sitin2.jpgAccording to statement from the group:

Quarter Master 3rd Class (QM-3) Shellaine Gokey served her country proudly in the United States Navy for four years before she was discharged under Don't Ask, Don't Tell in 2001. Gokey states "Don't ask Don't tell policy is not fair and is a hindrance for our military personnel. I was a good sailor and I loved being part of the Navy. I was dedicated, and if not expelled for my sexual orientation, I would likely have been a career sailor. The Navy loses some of its best and brightest every time DADT is brought to bear."

Gokey will be asking to speak to Senator McCain about the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy along with four friends. Gokey and friends will not leave McCain's office until the Senator meets with his constituents and stands behind his 2006 quote that "The day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, 'Senator, we ought to change the policy,' then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it."

The sit-in began at 8:00 AM this morning. As of this afternoon, the sit-in continued without any arrests.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as they become available.

Read the letter Gokey wants to deliver to Senator McCain after the jump with updates.

gokey.jpgSenator John McCain
U.S. Senate
241 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-0001

Subject: Repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Dear Senator McCain,

As your constituent, I am writing to urge you to support legislation in the United States Senate to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" statute governing military service by lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans.

I want to tell you my story and what I went through:

My name is Shellaine Gokey and I served in the U.S. Navy from 1997-2001.

In June of 1997 I was working at Bank of America pushing papers with no future plans. I was fortunate enough at that time of my life to have somebody wake me up and say "What do you want to do with your life". I knew I loved the ocean and thoughts of being out to sea always intrigued me. In June I enlisted myself into the Navy as a non-designated seaman. I had no idea what I wanted to in the Navy; I just wanted to be a part of something great.

When I went to boot camp I ended loving it so much I never wanted to leave. There was something about the camaraderie I loved. Luck would have it after boot camp; my first tour was taking me to Yokosuka, Japan to be on the 7th Fleet's command ship, USS Blue Ridge. I was so excited to go somewhere new and exciting.

Being on the Blue Ridge made it possible to travel all around the world and see new places. Since I was undesignated in the Navy, I did all the maintenance and dirty work. I remember getting off of my shift and being caked with paint and dirt. I loved it; I was able to take pride in something I did. I stayed undesignated for about 2 years until I found what I really wanted to do as my career.

A quartermaster is a rate where you navigate and plot the vessel in water. It became my job to plot our position in the water and advise the officers what direction they needed to go. I had the cool breeze in my face and salty water in my hair. There is nothing like standing on a bridge of a ship and watching the water go by. My job was never an 8 to 5 job; it was more like a 24 hour job working 4 shifts a day. I never minded though, I couldn't wait to do my job. I was good at it too; not to long after I made 3rd class I was asked to teach the up and coming officers how to use celestial navigation to get their qualifications. Not too bad considering there were 4 other people more senior to me.

During my time on the Blue Ridge I had my relationships but they were kept to me. It was really hard for me, because I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I started dating someone on the same ship seriously after awhile. Since we were in the same department it was hard to keep our relationship serious secret. We both were sent to the Master at Arms more than once about our sexual orientation. Someone had "told" but they never had proof. This turned into be very taxing for both of us. The thing was we were not doing anything different than any other straight couple except we weren't supposed to show our feelings openly.

On October 12, 2000 I re-enlisted for another two years to serve on the newest aircraft carrier, Harry S. Truman. As an enlisted seaman, you can receive two insignias, the Surface Warfare and Air Warfare insignia. These insignias represent that you are trained and qualified to perform duties aboard warships. I received my Surface Warfare pin on the Blue Ridge, the test was oral and written and it took 4 hours to complete. Most military members take 5-10 years to get these insignias; I received mine in 3. It was a great moment for me that I still carry with me.

After taking a couple weeks rest back home with the family, I bought myself a new car and went to my next command in Virginia. The Harry S. Truman was the newest aircraft carrier for the Navy. The ship was about to go out for its 6 month tour to Europe. This however was changed and we ending up serving in the Gulf war instead. You would think tooling around in circles for 8 months would be boring and monotonous but I loved it. Since I came from a vessel that was always at sea I had a leg up on the other Quartermasters. None of the other Quartermasters had been at sea so I ended up being their trainer.

I enjoyed it very much and developed very close relationships. However, being so close to my fellow shipmates, it is hard to keep my personal life a secret. I ended up not keeping my secret and I told some of my fellow shipmates. Their response was good and they had no issues with it. I also told my Master Chief in charge and she had no issues with it.

After getting done with our now 9 month tour in the Gulf, we headed home. My partner and I decided to get married when I got back home. I told a few of my friends on ship, including my Master Chief. Again there were no issues presented to me about me being gay and getting married. However after I returned back from my honeymoon I was reported to the JAG office for misconduct. My fellow shipmates that I trusted so deeply turned me in for being gay.

At this point in my career I was tired of hiding and being put in this situation. I was sick about the secrets, sick about the betrayals, sick about facing. In the end I declared that I was gay.

I did receive an honorable discharge and no negative marks on my record. However, something was taken from me, my honor. Being in the US Navy was the greatest honor in my life. I was proud to be sailor in the U.S. Navy.

Don't ask Don't tell policy is not fair and is a hindrance for our military personnel. I was a good sailor and I loved being part of the Navy. I was dedicated, and if not expelled for my sexual orientation, I would likely have been a career sailor. The Navy loses some of its best and brightest every time DADT is brought to bear.

I am requesting to speak to you, either in person at your Tempe office or by teleconference from your location to your Tempe office on Tuesday May 11th at 8:30 am.


Shellaine Gokey

H.E.R.O. staged a similar protest on April 26, resulting in the arrest of Meg Sneed, Jimmy Gruender, Lee Walters, (Lonnie) Allen Howard-Stidham and Luisa Valdez.



H.E.R.O. posted an update on their website:

We were also bringing boxes of supplies for the troops. (Check our notes for items you can gather and drop off.)

After delivering the boxes, Shelly then asked to speak with Sen. McCain, following up from a letter sent last week requesting an in-person or phone meeting today. We were of course informed that the Senator was unavailable. And, we gave our standard reply - we'll wait!

The hours passed - six of them to be exact. But during those hours we learned alot about Sen. McCain's Tempe office:

They told us "We have no idea how to contact Sen. McCain." They actually have no direct access - they have to go through handlers. Talk about controlling beauracracy.

They had no clue how to respond to us. And they couldn't get anyone on the line to tell them what to do with us. (By this point we started feeling sorry for them.)

Then, they were discussing among themselves - but in front of us- what they would do if we didn't leave by 5pm. ... They thought they might have to stay with us, since they couldn't leave us in their office alone.

Our issue is not with the Senator's staff - anymore than it is with the police. Our issue is with the policy.

Finally, we received word from Allen in DC that he had met with two of McCain's Executive Staff. At this point, we decided the best course of action was to take the office manager's offer of arranging a meeting - and hold our efforts off until another day.

So we did, we accepted her offer to call us within 24 hours to arrange a meeting. And, we promised her we would collect more supplies for our soldiers overseas.

Today ended differently than we thought it would - but it isn't over. Not until DADT has been repealed and LGBT soldiers are allowed to serve with honesty and integrity!

Stay tuned... in the next 24 hours... there's more to come.


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"Finally, we received word from Allen in DC that he had met with two of McCain's Executive Staff. At this point, we decided the best course of action was to take the office manager's offer of arranging a meeting - and hold our efforts off until another day."

Yes, and ERIC ALVA USMC in a tweet about his visit to the Hill today told us he had passed by Senator McCain, but did not try to stop him to talk.

It's certain;y not "intriguing." It's stupid.

Senator McCain's position on all things "gay" is immutable. It is a moral position. These stunts are only intended to make people real activists. They DO NOT produce any tangible results.

It's too easy to complain, it's much more difficult to create some real, sustainable results. Demonstrating that we are "mad" or "frustrated" doesn't change any minds.

This group that wants to be known as our LGBT "hero" would make a real difference by focusing on McCain's constituents and their beliefs. Until that happens, McCain will never change his mind - no matter how upset we are.

This stunt was another waste of time. Please stop.

There are many ways to reach McCain's constituents, and this is one. Some people cannot be spurred to make a call, write a letter or visit a legislator's office unless they see a tangible demonstration of how important in issue is. It wouldn't surprise me if lots of people called in in support of DADT repeal as a result of this.

There is no single right way to create change. Different ways work for different people. If sit ins aren't your cup of tea that is perfectly fine. But they do have a positive impact on others. The more sedate methods you allude to also have a positive effect. We need it all.

That's an interesting opinion Lurleen, but tell us HOW this display of frustration changes any minds? Why does someone hearing someone else complain change their mind?

If we want to enroll people to join us and support us, how does this stunt do that? We don't need attention, 96% of America understands our plight. How exactly does this display of anger and frustration change any minds?

We absolutely need people to understand our plight. These "look-at-me-complain" stunts don't provide any understanding, they only highlight frustration.

We don't need more attention, we need more real, sustainable results. Complaining is NLT a result.

What do you recommend Andrew?

Focusing on constituents - our fellow citizens, and sharing our stories and lives with them to create understanding. Until we get people to support us and join our effort to obtain full equality, people like John McCain will remain an unmovable roadblock.

John McCain won't change his mind until his constituents force or encourage him to.

It's easy to complain to McCain, but it's not effective. It takes more effort to explain - to our neighbors, friends, co-workers and even strangers - but, that's the only way to create real, sustainable change. We won't win until we focus on getting people to join us.


Actions like these get our issues before constituents. It is difficult or impossible to capture local media's attention on LGBT issues in some communities. By being a little creative, peaceful, and resourceful -- this grassroots org has not only captured local media's watchful eye, but the national spotlight as well.

They are well messaged, use the perfect spokespeople, and are following in the footsteps of giants like Ghandi, Martin Luther King JR., and others who used civil disobedience to further their cause.

That's the lazy way Joe. Believing that "media coverage" leads to changing minds is totally without merit. The fact is people in Arizona KNOW the issues. Confronting McCain doesn't change any minds. A few media reports about "protesting" doesn't change any minds. Conversation does.

I know it's a lot harder to do the real work - talking to neighbors, friends and co-workers, which helps explain why everyone would rather be an "activist," than be effective.

The comparison to Ghandi and MLK is ridiculous.

As someone who works in emerging media for a living, I clearly have a differnt perspective. Media is part of the conversation. It is not the only part of the coversation. Face to face interaction with those we know is extraordinarily valuable -- however it is not the only tool we have at our disposal.

I'm not exatly sure what you mean by "real work." Is blogging fake work? Is using your facebook account to reach old friends and family fake work? What exaclty is "real work?"

I'd like to know.I guess I'm going to have to correct my partner in the morning when he tells me to have a good day at work.I can say, "No, I'll have a good day at fake work."

To address your last sentance. Ghandi and MLK did use civil dissobedience as a tool. It is historical fact.

"Real work" means getting people to join us, to support us. Yelling at the "enemy" is not helpful.

This stunt was to attempt a meeting with John McCain - someone who is NOT going to change his mind until his constituents do. John McCain knows we disagree with him, he knows we are frustrated, even angry, he knows the stories, BUT he also has a MORAL objection to LGBT issues. The majority of his constituents have the same MORAL objection.

Young people are making good use of FaceBook and other social media, but young people are NOT the problem - old people are. Old, like McCain.

This publicity stunt at McCain's office was NOT "civil disobedience" it was a publicity stunt. If these activists have free time, have them do what YOU suggested "face to face interaction" with fellow citizens. It's harder than complaining, but it's a lot more effective.

Like Barney Frank said these stunts are "childish and stupid" and they "don't change any minds." That's the real work, changing minds.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | May 13, 2010 4:43 PM

Andrew, you should read a little history.

What changed the minds and scared the bejebuz out of the KKK, the Dixiecrats and the southern baptists? What convinced them to use their sheets as bedding and hide their dynamite?

Was it (A) the fear of offending the norms of political correctness and exposing themselves to the embarrassment of being outed as violence prone racist pigs.

Or was it (B) the Lowndes County Freedom Organization organized by SNCC and its large self defense unit the original Black Panther Party.

Or could it have been (C) the very competent armed self defense of the Lumbee Nation who routed the KKK at the Battle of Hayes Pond in 1958.

Or was it (D) the wide dissemination of Malcolm Xs' powerful speech "The Ballot or the Bullet" here in its entirety:;s

Or was it (E) the militant direct actions of SNCC and the mass marches of SCLC.

Gosh, I hope you'll bother to answer me. Otherwise I'll figure you have no answers.

Nothing "changed the minds or scared the bejesus out of the KKK, the Dixiecrats or the Southern Baptists." So, there is no need to pick from your list of historical references.

Racism didn't end over night. Laws didn't change minds and neither did protests. Old ideas die. Racists die - the sooner the better.

The same will be true for bigots - they are dying.

If that's hard for you to comprehend - compare America to the Middle East. Societies evolve because of education and understanding - not stunts or threats.

Wake up - it's 2010, the World has changed. I know you want to March around and yell at people, but there is NO evidence that that works. It's "I wanna be an activist" folklore.

Good for them. It's heartwarming to see them trying to bring awareness to the issue in Arizona.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | May 12, 2010 5:36 PM

I hope they make it clear they're opposed to the new racist law too,

Good for them. Remember when people thought McCain was a centrist?

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | May 12, 2010 8:24 PM

Remember when people claimed Obama was pro-GLBT?

I guess that's where you assumptions are wrong. These folks aren't "yelling" at anyone. They are politely but firmly requesting a meeting with their elected representative.

In this case, they were promised a meeting time within 24 hours. So, it worked. Nothing wrong with that what so ever.

So, "requesting a meeting" is now "civil disobedience." Gee whiz, it's so easy to be an activist.

What happened at the "meeting?" Or don't we already know?

They have not had their meeting, but they got a meeting. I'll let you know how it goes when I hear from them.

They went into yesterday's action with the intention of getting arrested, but they realized the staff at that office was so out of touch with their boss that they felt sorry for them and decided to leave when the office closed.

They demonstrated maturity, dignity, and sense of decency. Clearly, these traits are lacking in our culture so they don't come "easy."

Great. I'd like to know how the meeting goes.

I would invite you to think about whether they could have done more good spending the same amount of time talking to neighbors, friends or strangers. They've already put a few days into "waiting" for a meeting.

In this case, no I do not think so. I think speaking to friends and neighbors is an important part of the process, but not the only part of the process. This is a very complex civil rights movement, and to try to narrow it down to one or two tactics is over simplification.

Ultimately, the majority of people can support an issue, but unless our representatives vote the way the people want, majority opinion is meaningless. We live in a Representative Democracy, so we need to lobby our representatives as frequently as possible.

Unless you are a major donor it is nearly impossible to get face time with a Senator. Peaceful creativity can go a long way towards getting your representative's attention.

Your words are exactly what I have come to expect from someone trying to make a living off the "movement." Suggesting that this is a "very complex movement" just furthers your goals, but it totally without merit.

It is not complex or complicated. It is simple.

People have been taught that we are "wrong" or in some way "defective." That is how we've been branded. THAT is our problem. Being defined by others has caused ALL our difficulties. It is OUR responsibility to change that - we must define ourselves.

Just like racism, bigotry is dying off with those that were taught to think and believe a certain way. The cure for those teachings is understanding. Coming out. Explaining. Enrolling. When people know us, they are likely to understand us AND support us. That's all VERY simple.

So, in the context of "winning," we need to determine what actually helps us by adding support, getting people to join us. These silly, childish publicity stunts - high profile complaining - do not add to our support. They may actually hurt us.

Stop misleading people with the idea that our problem is "complex," because it isn't. More importantly, stop romanticizing "activism." If you have evidence of ANY effectiveness, then be the FIRST person to provide it. Complaining doesn't change minds.

Just to be clear, I don't make a living from the movement. I work for a private company doing something completely not related to the LGBT community. My work with the community thus far is completely unpaid.

Anyway beyond that, I'm going to agree to disagree with you and move on.

That's too easy Joe. Debate the ideas, tactics and strategies. I agree with you - we need "paid organizers," but where we disagree is what they should be doing.

If you want to promote "direct action" and the tiring howls of frustration, tell us HOW they help us. How do these stunts get people to support us?

You already know that direct conversation is very effective. You already know that direct sharing of our stories and our live makes the biggest difference. You already know that coming out and getting others to "come around" and to understand changes everything. So, why the hesitance? Why the recalcitrant promotion of public expressions of anger and frustration? Why?

I know many people want to believe that these actions are helpful, but they never provide any evidence. I'm sorry, but accountability has arrived. You and your activist friends are quick to hold HRC accountable (and I mostly agree with you in that regard), but you refuse the same scrutiny. It's called equal treatment - get used to it.

I don't demean the importance of our equality by "agreeing to disagree." I want answers. I want to know HOW and WHEN we will WIN. That isn't negotiable or left in some tired pile of polite "disagreement." I expect the same of you. Just like "in the streets," complaining isn't enough Joe. Not even close.

I'm just going to correct one thing you said, "You and your activist friends are quick to hold HRC accountable..."

I've never publicly written or said a negative word about HRC or any org, or any individual working towards LGBT equality. Quite the contrary. HRC was here for us in Washington during Referendum 71, and I will never forget that. They helped us raise, $71,000 in one night. It was the second largest contribution of that campaign -- second only to Microsoft's $100,000.00 contribution. That money helped fund television air time we used to share Charlene Strong's gut wrenching story that helped win hearts and minds, and ultimately the election. (The was the only time expansion of LGBT states rights has been approved by voters in United States History.)

HRC also provided a field staff member who was simply amazing. He filled our phone banks, and volunteer nights, every single day. (He was also a ton of fun!)

And then finally, and this is where you seem to miss the point -- on the issue of Don't Ask, Don't Tell we've already won popular opinion. On the issue of ENDA, we've already won popular opinion. We're almost there on marriage -- and will be as older people die off.

So who is left? The politicians. And without a multi-billion dollar corporate war chest to offer them -- creativity through civil disobedience is a tool that should be used when appropriate to get their attention. John McCain is an appropriate target because he has been pro LGBT in the past. His current stance is likely political homophobia. He's just got bad information, because the people are with us.

If McCain starts to look like a cold hearted fool in his local press during an election year on an Don't Ask, Don't Tell, his political operatives will move him in the right directions. That's how it works.

The "people" in Arizona are NOT with us. You cannot suggest "national polling data" rules the day - States do. That's the problem with "public opinion" it is ultimately based on individual States.

As far as your affection for HRC that's understandable if you believe they were helpful in Washington. Perhaps, they were. But, most of HRC's $50 million a year (+$550 million in 30 years) has been for "lobbying," and they have no "successes" to claim. Lobbying politicians - which is what you seem to be focused on - has NOT provided any positive results.

You cannot get McCain until you get his constituents. THEY decide what he does or THEY replace him. It that easy.

The actions of your "heroes" in trying to meet with McCain do not change the minds of his constituents. You can continue to ignore that reality or you can shift your thinking and try to figure out what GETS PEOPLE TO JOIN US. It's your choice.

There is NO evidence that these childish stunts help. We have exchanged several comments and you have NOT provided any. Short of that, please give some thought to figuring out how we win constituents, because doing that means we own McCain. That's a better strategy than yelling at him.

It's not okay to simply "feel good" about our movement by making some noise - we need results. Real, sustainable results. That means we need to change minds. Washington can teach Arizona a lot. By sharing, not by "protesting."