Sen. Dick Durbin is seemingly a supporter of gay rights. He is a sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and wants "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repealed. But a group of local activists are not buying it--and were arrested outside of Durbin's Chicago office Thursday after organizing a sit-in to demand equal rights to gay Americans.
"I am here because we can no longer sit around and wait for our rights to be handed to us by politicians, we must demand our rights from them," local LGBT activist Lindsey Dietzler said in a statement. "We have to be here to fight for those who are forced to remain invisible and deny who they are just to make a living. I want Senator Durbin to know that until there is full federal equality for every queer citizen, no one in this country is free."
Dietzler was among 13 people arrested outside Durbin's office on Thursday after entering and demanding the senator sign a pledge that "affirms his commitment to a transgender-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act." They feel he should do more to promote ENDA with "forceful advocacy of the bill before the media and Senate."
Though Durbin was not in his office, the protesters demanded to speak to him by phone. When his staff told them that was not possible, they still refused to leave. They were then removed from the office by federal authorities.
"Today [Durbin is] a sponsor of ENDA, but has done next to nothing to advocate for it," the Gay Liberation Network's Brent Holman-Gomez said in a statement. "He says he opposes employment discrimination, yet his 1993 DADT vote ensures that the nation's largest employer (the military) continues discriminating and he has refused to demand that President Obama issue a stop-loss order for outed military personnel."
Despite Durbin's current views on gay rights, he voted for "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in 1993 and for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.
The protest at Durbin's office was just one of several leading up to Harvey Milk Day, May 22. The day is officially honored in California but being celebrated in cities throughout the country, giving activists a chance to honor the first openly gay elected official while working in their own communities to end homophobia.
The pledge the queer community wants Durbin to sign is below:
I, Senator Richard Durbin, agree to stand before my colleagues in the U.S. Senate and the media to forcefully declare the urgent need for a transgender-inclusive ENDA in 2010. While all LGBTQ people in this country remain second-class citizens, it is a crisis that 97 percent of transgender people, according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, have experienced mistreatment, harassment or discrimination on the job.
Federally-sanctioned discrimination of the millions of U.S. workers who are sexual minorities must finally pass into history. The time is now to stop the lies, the scapegoating and the bigotry against those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer. I appeal to my colleagues in the Senate to end our sad history of anti-LGBTQ bigotry and pass a transgender-inclusive ENDA in 2010.
Despite the arrests, the group will continue the events it has planned for Harvey Milk Week, and will rally in the Grant Park near Congress and Michigan Avenue Saturday at 1 p.m.