On the surface, Dan Choi’s military career progressed in an exemplary but relatively ordinary way. He graduated from West Point with Arabic language skills that made him valuable to the Army. He volunteered for duty in Iraq. He was a dedicated soldier. After serving in the army, he joined the Army National Guard.
That was 2008, the year Choi decided it was time to open the closet door. With other West Point alumni, staff and faculty, he helped found Knights Out to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender soldiers who wanted to preserve their identity while serving their country. At the time, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was still forcing people to hide their sexual identity if they wanted to stay in the military.
In March 2009, Choi spoke three, career-ending words on the Rachel Maddow show: “I am gay.” The long arm of DADT swiftly hammered him. The U.S. Army sent him a letter that said, in part, “Your actions negatively affected the good order and discipline of the New York Army National Guard.”
None of Choi’s fellow soldiers accused the lieutenant of hitting on them so improper conduct was not at issue. The only thing the Army charged Choi with was being honest about who he was.
Choi did not go quietly. The injustice of his dismissal galvanized him. Three times he was arrested outside the White House for participating in protests against DADT. He became a confident and articulate spokesman for abolishing the policy. When DADT was repealed, Choi was invited to the White House to witness President Obama’s signing the bill.
Unfortunately, that was not the end of his struggle. He is still fighting federal charges for protesting in front of the White House last November. While most people arrested for minor acts of civil disobedience receive nothing more punishing than a few hours in jail and a warning, Choi and some of his fellow protestors earned the wrath of the Department of Justice. They were told if they refused to admit guilt, they would end up with a permanent adult criminal record.
Choi refused to admit his conduct was disorderly. He and his fellow protesters had simply chained themselves to the fence and chanted, “I am somebody. I deserve full equality.” They were not even obstructing the sidewalk. They were simply exercising their right to free speech.
The Department of Justice refuses to back down unless he admits guilt. So Choi’s court fight will continue until the punitive charges are dropped and the young man is allowed his wish, to resume service to his country.
- “Keith Boykin, Author, Beyond the Down Low.” Gothamist. 8 June 2011.
- “Keith Boykin – TV Host/Author/Speaker.” Keith Boykin. 8 June 2011.
- Malmgren, Jeanne. “The way he sees it.” St. Petersburg Times Online. St. Petersburg Times. 8 June 2011.
- One More River to Cross: Black & Gay in America (1997)
- Respecting the Soul: Daily Reflections for Black Lesbians and Gays (1999)
- Beyond the Down Low: Sex, Lies, and Denial in Black America (2005)
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Image from LGBT History Month video, no infringement intended.