Wayne Turner

Silence = Death Neon

The DOMA Eight

Shortly after President Clinton signed the so called 'Defense of Marriage Act' (DOMA) on September 21, 1996, a small group of us showed up at the White House to protest with plans to engage in non-violent civil disobedience. We had also been conducting vigils during the Senate debate on the bill.

"The DOMA Eight," as we later called ourselves, included Deacon Macubbin and Jim Bennett from Lambda Rising; Rev. Mel White and his partner Gary Nixon, Revs. Harry Stock and Ken South, and my late partner Steve Michael.

We carried our signs and chanted and denounced the President for signing the most anti-gay federal legislation in history. Following the customary three warnings, we were each arrested, handcuffed, placed in the police wagon, and taken to Park Police headquarters.

For Steve and me, this had become almost routine. As dedicated ACT UPers, we had organized and participated in numerous AIDS protests, many of them targeting the Clinton White House. However, I suspect some of our colleagues hadn't been involved in this type of action since the Vietnam War protests of 20 years earlier.

We arrived at Park Police Headquarters in Anacostia and were ushered into the main hallway. We heard a loud booming voice coming from an adjacent office - "Are these the ACT UP protesters?"

A large, formidable uniformed officer entered the hallway and announced to our colleagues, "You other guys hooked up with the wrong people. These guys are trouble. You all don't know what you've gotten yourselves into."

The look on our fellow protesters faces was approaching panic, which then turned into disbelief when the officer came up to me, gave me a big bear hug, and said, "Heya Wayne, good to see you. And look, Steve's here too!"

Because of our frequent protests, I had developed a good working relationship with several Park Police and Secret Service officers. Det. Kenny Green and I had been in many meetings negotiating permits for demonstrations. Several months earlier, I had worked on the Ashes Action, in which ACT UP members brought the ashes of loved ones who had died from AIDS and scattered them over the White House fence. (This was, of course, pre-9/11, and the Secret Service agreed to ashes if we scattered them and did not throw them over in containers.)

Det. Green welcomed us all and we were all processed and released in about four hours.

Two years later, I was again in a meeting with Det. Green negotiating a White House protest - my partner's funeral. Steve died from AIDS on May 25, 1998. He wanted his funeral at the White House - not ashes; but an open casket service to show America what AIDS is doing to our families. It took some doing, but we were able to grant Steve that final wish - his last White House protest.

After one of the planning meetings, Det. Green actually gave me a ride home. He told me that the hardest part of losing someone you love was still to come. After the funeral and the planning and the well wishers, there will be a silence, and emptiness that is intolerable. As I have since learned, he was right.

The last I heard, Det. Green retired and moved with his wife to West Virginia for some fly fishing. I wish him well and remain forever grateful to this man who treated me and my relationship with far greater respect and compassion than the President who signed DOMA into law.