Ironically, as he stood with one arm handcuffed to the White House fence on Sunday afternoon, Dallas activist Mark Reed says he felt “liberated.”
Reed, a successful business owner who’s in his early 50s, said he’d never been arrested before and hadn’t even had a traffic ticket in 10 years.
In fact, he’d always figured that if he were arrested, he’d probably faint due to his fear of authorities.
Strangely, though, that didn’t happen.
“I was not at all afraid,” Reed told me this morning from the airport in D.C., where he was waiting to board his flight back to Dallas. “When I was on the fence, I felt liberated. I was angry at Obama, and it was coming from my heart, that we are somebody and we deserve full equality.”
Reed was one of six LGBT activists arrested after chaining themselves to the fence during a rally to demand a 2010 repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell.” The rally was organized by the direct action groups GetEQUAL, Queer Rising and Talk About Equality.
Reed, a member of GetEQUAL, said he hadn’t even planned on being in D.C. last weekend. Then he heard Lt. Dan Choi’s “Truth or Consequences” speech at Harvard University on Thursday, which inspired him to book a flight for the rally.
Reed and his longtime partner, Dante Walkup, figured they’d visit some attractions they’d never been to before — they just didn’t think one of them would be the D.C. jail.
As he was en route to the capital, Reed got wind of Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ letter to Congress, in which Gates strongly urged lawmakers not to repeal DADT this year, delivering a major blow to the effort. That’s when Reed volunteered to be one of the six civilians who would chain themselves to the fence during the rally.
“Reading the Gates memo on Friday really made me angry and it convinced me that Obama really, truly wasn’t behind us, and that letter was providing a cover for politicians not to promote a repeal of DADT this year,” Reed said. “Nothing else is working. As a community we’re not feared by politicians for their lack of action on legislation. They continue to take our money and take our votes, and when they don’t move on our efforts for equality, they haven’t really felt any pain from us. We need to ratchet up the pressure and let them know that we’re not going to take it anymore. Hopefully others will join the movement, and I think it’ll be an important part of history.”
Reed spent 24 hours in jail before being released following a court appearance on Monday.
“When you’re in there, you’re stripped of all freedom,” he said. “You have nothing to occupy yourself except your mind. They do everything to make sure they hurt your dignity and to make you remember what I feels like to be in there. It’s a very degrading, dehumanizing experience.”
But Reed said the experience also opened his eyes to another injustice.
“We were the only two white guys in the jail cell,” he said of himself and another activist, “and that certainly shouldn’t be that way. There’s something wrong with our system.”
After appearing in court, Reed was ordered to pay a $100 fine before being released. His case is closed, and he won’t have to return to D.C. for court. But it’s safe to say he’ll be back for other reasons.
“Absolutely, I’d do it again, and I hope others join us,” Reed said. “I think that the actions may help and they may not, but I’ll tell you what, if nothing else is working, and if it doesn’t get repealed this year, at least we can say we tried our best to bring attention to it.
“In the past, our lawmakers haven’t seen consequences for the lack of action on their part,” he added. “We can’t think of anything else, except quit donating, quit voting for them, and create some acts of nonviolent civil disobedience to communicate to the world how wrong it is.”