A handful of gay-rights protesters, demanding the repeal of the military's ban on openly gay service members, disrupted President Barack Obama's speech at a fundraising event for Sen. Barbara Boxer in Los Angeles on Monday night.
"Repeal 'don't ask, don't tell,' " one person shouted out, as Obama was extolling Boxer's record on jobs and families. "We are going to do that," Obama immediately replied, raising his voice. "Hey, hold on a second, hold on a second. We are going to do that." The president's supporters jumped in, chanting, "Yes we can," the old battle cry from his 2008 campaign.
But several of the protesters were not mollified. And a couple of minutes later, another yelled, "It's time for equality for all Americans." This time, before Obama could answer, someone else shouted back, "Be quiet!" At that point, Obama said to the heckler, "I'm sorry, do you want to come up here? . . . Barbara and I are supportive of repealing 'Don't ask, don't tell,' so I don't know why you're hollering." Again, the president was backed by the vast majority of the crowd -- "Yes, we can" -- and the speech continued uninterrupted.
The hubbub was about the military's requirement that members of the armed forces keep their sexual orientation private, with the promised assurance that they, in turn, won't be asked about it. The policy was started during the Clinton administration, but it has many critics, including Obama, who supports allowing gays to serve openly in the armed forces. But it hasn't happened yet, to the growing impatience of some in the gay community, as evidenced Monday night. The demonstrators were part of GetEqual, a gay-rights group that also staged a small protest outside the Boxer rally.
It was an unwelcome distraction for the California Democrat, who is in a tough re-election fight.