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8 LGBT Protesters Arrested Outside John Boehner's Office

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Amanda Terkel
Amanda Terkel

WASHINGTON -- Eight LGBT activists were arrested on Thursday after staging a protest outside House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) office to demand a House vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

The sit-in was arranged by the group GetEQUAL, which also recently interrupted first lady Michelle Obama's speech at a fundraiser.

Eight individuals, including one of Boehner's constituents, went into Boehner's office on Thursday morning and asked for a meeting with either the speaker or his staff on ENDA, which would bar employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

A Boehner aide came out and agreed to hear their concerns, at first attempting to move the meeting into the hallway. When they refused, they stood in the lobby and told their stories of why they want the discrimination to end.

"I'm happy to pass along your concerns to the speaker, that you did stop by the office today. We appreciate you coming by. Thanks so much for stopping by," said the aide, who then left the room and shut the door.

The protesters then sat down on the floor and loudly chanted, "We are somebody! We deserve full equality! Right here! Right now!" until they were moved into the hallway by Capitol police. They continued to shout, receiving two more warnings. Then, one by one, they were handcuffed and arrested. Those who refused to stand up were dragged outside.

Boehner's spokesman did not return a request for comment.

Sean Watkins, 29, is an Iraq War veteran from Boehner's district and was among the protesters arrested Thursday. He experienced workplace discrimination firsthand when a picture of him and his boyfriend on his desk raised complaints.

"After graduating college, I can remember having an office job and putting a picture of myself and my boyfriend on my desk and being called into my supervisor's office. They had a nondiscrimination policy in place, but they still told me there were concerns I was flaunting my sexual orientation," he told The Huffington Post prior to the protest. "My response was, 'Well, if I have to take this picture down, then every heterosexual picture of a couple in this company has to come down as well, because you have workplace protections in place.' That's not the case for millions and millions of LGBT folks everywhere."

Texas resident Tiffani Bishop, a student at ITT Tech who served in the U.S. Navy, was also arrested. She too has personally experienced job discrimination.

She told The Huffington Post that she believes her supervisors at her previous job actively tried to get her fired because of her sexual orientation.

"I don't want to be looking over my shoulder anymore. I want to be able to find work and be judged solely on the merits of my job performance," she said. "Usually during the interview process, I will ask if they have a policy in place that protects LGBT workers, and nine times out of 10, they do not. But not only that, I've found myself getting really, really nervous when asking that, because just asking can get me denied a job."

Both Watkins and Bishop said they found it frustrating that gay service members could now serve openly, but are then forced back into the closet when they leave the military and return to civilian life.

LGBT groups have been disappointed that President Barack Obama has refused to issue an executive order that would bar federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT individuals -- a move that would affect 22 percent of the U.S. civilian workforce. Ellen Sturtz, the GetEQUAL activist who interrupted the first lady, was protesting over this issue.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin recently told BuzzFeed that no one has "given me directly any reason that it has not yet happened or that it couldn't or shouldn't happen."

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) has introduced the Senate version of ENDA, and Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) has done so in the House. Reid said on Monday that he expects the Senate will "soon" take up the legislation. The bill has been reintroduced in several Congresses and has received some hearings, but it hasn't had a vote on the House or Senate floor since November 2007, when it passed the House by a vote of 235-184.

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