Gay Rights Advocate and First Lieutenant Dan Choi Discharged After Coming Out
As of yesterday afternoon, when Federal Judge Walker overturned Proposition 8 in California, gay rights in the US have been looking up. Thousands celebrated in California and across the country last night, and rightfully so. And yet, true equality, especially when it comes to the military, still seems so far off. Since Obama was elected in 2008, there has been a lot of talk around repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, however, the policy continues to be enforced, and in the last two years tens of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender men and women have been discharged from the military due to their sexual orientation. Just last week, Arabic linguist, West Point graduate and First Lieutenant Dan Choi, one of the most outspoken critics of the policy still in uniform, received his discharge papers. Since coming on the Rachel Maddow Show in March 2009, Choi has become a full-time advocate for gay and lesbian rights, working especially hard to organize a movement in support of a government repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. He has organized a group of gay West Point graduates called Knights Out, which advocates for ending the DADT policy based on the West Point principles of serving one’s country honestly and morally as well as lead and spoken at numerous gay rights protests and Pride parades. His coming out also marked the initialization of processes banning him from further service in the military. A drawn out process, Choi officially received his discharge papers sixteen months later while participating at the Netroots Nation conference in Las Vegas, joining both the nearly 14,000 Army servicemembers to have been discharged since the policy’s installment in 1994 and the disproportionate 45 percent of which who are people of color.
In an interview with Democracy Now!, which was shot at the conference but aired just yesterday, Choi compared the adversity gays and lesbians face in the US, particularly in regards to the recent polls of servicemen and women about DADT, to the era of segregation: “And the fact that we’re having a survey that hearkens back to the times of segregation and the times of absolute racism, that’s absolutely contrary to what our country stood for and continues to stand for, I think, is incredulous. And I honestly believe that future generations are going to look back at this time, and they will vomit. They will absolutely, with so much indignation, look at what we are doing and wonder why people didn’t stand up and shout at their government officials, what a travesty it is that we have not learned—seems like we haven’t learned anything, from the times when segregation laws and racism was just the thing to do.” He was also quite clear about where he sees the change needing to take place: “And I have no resentment, I have no regret, to anybody in the military. This is clearly a failure of our government. We all know that America’s promises are not manifest yet, so long as gay or transgender people are getting kicked out of their workplaces, fired for telling the truth or expressing who they are.” While at the Netroots Nation conference Choi turned over his West Point ring and discharge papers to Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, stating firmly that he will hold the senator accountable to his promise to pass the proper legislation.
We think of intolerance and bigotry as conservative follies, and yet, we must remember that this policy was initiated under a democratic administration and is maintained by one to this day. Despite Obama’s promises to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, there is still a lot of work to do, namely, Congress needs to pass the repeal law (the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, or MREA). According to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network website, there are currently 192 congressional co-sponsors for the legislation. 218 are needed to make it pass. Contact your representatives today, donate to Knights Out and support related events going on in your area.