by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
The four women arrested March 18 for a non-violent sit-in at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's D.C. office agreed to six months of probation at their April 6 hearing.
Lt. Dan Choi, who was arrested the same day after chaining himself to the White House fence to protest 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' and GetEqual co-chair Robin McGehee attended the hearing to show their support.
Dubbed the "ENDA 4," Chastity Kirven, Jay Carmona, Michelle Wright, and Samantha Ames demanded that Pelosi move a Transgender-inclusive version of ENDA to the House floor for a vote by the end of March.
ENDA - the Employment Non-Discrimination Act - would forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace.
The four were arraigned on charges of "unlawful entry/remaining" on the morning of April 6, and then held over for a status hearing before D.C. Superior Court Judge Harold Cushenberry.
Claire Morris Clark, the attorney for the four women, had previously negotiated an agreement with D.C. prosecutors, which Cushenberry approved. The judge then set a new hearing date for October 6.
Cushenberry promised to dismiss all charges on that date if the four defendants comply with the terms of their agreement with prosecutors. The four agreed to
o Stay away from Speaker Pelosi's office in the Cannon House Office Building unless they receive a written invitation.
o They must not be arrested again under probable cause before their October 6 hearing.
o Carmona and Ames must complete 60 hours of community service.
Cushenberry noted that Kirven and Wright are not D.C. residents and concluded that his court does not have jurisdiction to compel them to perform community service in the District.
Cushenberry also dropped another item in the agreement as unenforceable.
The defendants had agreed not to engage in "disruptive" activity in the U.S. Capitol. Cushenberry said that provision made him "uncomfortable" because it was too vague, and he declined to enforce it.
Clark told reporters after the status hearing that the agreement was a "very good outcome."
"The U.S. attorney's office has a couple different mediums where they'll try and work things out, and this is the best one," she said. "It doesn't require a guilty plea. It's a very good deal."
Choi said he attended the hearing because the shared experience of being arrested for civil disobedience is "in a lot of ways, like being in combat."
"We have waged war against inequality," he said. "Sometimes, as soldiers, you don't have a lot of money, you don't have a lot of trappings of what we have in terms of political power - but we have each other, and until we have full equality, this is a battle that none of us are going to step away from."
Asked if additional acts of civil disobedience would occur in the future, Choi replied, "Of course," and said that he personally plans to take part in such protests.
"Until we have that American promise of equality and access to truth and truthful living manifest to everyone, it has to continue," he said.
McGehee said GetEqual is actively planning further acts of civil disobedience.
"We will be back and we will continue to organize non-violent civil disobedience throughout D.C. and other areas across the United States until we're equal," she said.
"Our goal with GetEqual is to create the lunch-counter moments that so clearly defined the civil rights movement around racial justice," McGehee added. "In an equality movement, we believe that we need to create those images that highlight the injustices that are clearly out there."
The four defendants consented to the agreement, and they said they were happy with the outcome of the proceedings.
Ames said she's "actually quite excited" to do the community service assigned to her as part of the agreement. She planned to work with Transgender Health Empowerment.
Noting none of the ENDA 4 was Transgender, Ames said that being arrested as a Transgender person is "so much more dangerous."
"Working for an organization that does community service that is working toward making that right and working toward making the prisons safer for Transgender folks in the area is, I think, something that I should feel fortunate to have the opportunity to do," she said.
Carmona said the agreement was "just another step toward getting ENDA passed for equality."
"So, I think I don't really feel a sense of joy or accomplishment so much as I feel like we just took another step," she said. "It's definitely not party time."
Ames reported a conversation with a Pelosi staffer as she was being handcuffed by police at the end of the March 18 sit-in.
According to Ames, a member of Pelosi's staff asked her if she thought there were enough votes to pass ENDA.
"And I said, 'Yes," Ames said. "And she said, 'We don't.' And I said I really wish we could have had this conversation earlier because I would have liked to have this conservation with her."
Ames noted that the day after their arrests, media quoted Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) as saying that ENDA supporters had the votes to pass it in the House.
"So the fact that that was starting the next day - I don't want to make this about egos, I want to make this about ENDA - but it would seem that it got something accomplished," she said.
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