Gay Rights Fight Gets Disobedient: Is It About Time?

In an act of civil disobedience, openly gay soldier Lt. Dan Choi along with Captain James Pietrangelo were both arrested on Thursday after chaining themselves to the White House fence in a protest over the military policy against openly gay service personnel, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (DADT). However, this protest has proved controversial within the LGBT community and quite divisive.

Pietrangelo was discharged from the military under DADT in 2004, while Choi’s discharge is still pending. The direct action Lt. Dan Choi and James Pietrangelo engaged in came off the back of a rally organized by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) on Thursday. As readers may be aware, the HRC has been criticized for not pressing President Obama hard enough on the promises he made to the LGBT community during his election campaign and since coming to office.

In a move that exasperated some LGBT rights activists further, HRC invited comedian Kathy Griffin to headline Thursday’s rally and to speak to the crowds that had gathered at D.C.’s Freedom Plaza. Still, the rally was designed to draw attention to the DADT repeal, and to coincide with the ongoing Senate Armed Services Committee hearings over the issue. As such, the event managed to attract more than 1000 people, a sizable portion of whom signed a pledge to become more involved in working toward a DADT repeal.

However, the contrast between HRC’s organized event and Choi’s later actions speaks directly to the differing opinions surrounding how best to pursue LGBT equality, both in terms of a DADT repeal itself, and in other wider issues such as getting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act through Congress.

At Thursday’s event, Lt. Choi took to the podium after Kathy Griffin graciously stepped aside to allow him to speak, at which point Choi gave this emotional address to the 1000 strong crowd:

“Hello. My name is Lt. Dan Choi.  I am being discharged from the US Army because I am gay and dared to say it out loud.  

Today, I am here on a mission with Capt. Jim Pietrangelo, and we are asking you all to join us.  We’re calling you to action because we are at a turning point — a moment in time where talk is no longer enough, and action is required.

Equality is not going to happen by itself.

You have been told that the President has a plan. But Congressman Barney Frank confirmed to us this week that the President still is not fully committed to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell this year.

And if we don’t seize this moment it may not happen for a very long time.

Some may tell you that I am one of the lucky ones. I have been welcomed back by my unit with open arms.  And it would be easy for me to stay quiet and hope that change will happen.

But what I was taught at West Point and learned in war is — hope is not a strategy. As officers, James and I both find it a dereliction of our moral duty to remain silent while thousands of our brothers and sister are not allowed to serve openly and honestly.

Capt. Pietrangelo was honorably discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2004 and I will be subject to the same shortly. As officers we are here today fighting for those in the ranks, and we need our Commander in Chief to do the same.

Our fight is not here at Freedom Plaza, it is at the White House. We are walking to the White House right now to send the President a message. So…take out your cell phones and your cameras. Document this moment. Join us as together — we make history.”

And walk they did. Choi and Pietrangelo headed over to the White House flanked by what has been described as a group of “several hundred” protesters.

Here’s a video of the protest, and Dan Choi speaking just before he and Pietrangelo cuffed themselves to the White House fence.

Video courtesy of GetEqual:

Lt. Choi and James Pietrangelo were eventually unchained and arrested, as this video from CNN shows:

According to reports, both are now being held at  D.C. Central Cellblock, without bail, until a court hearing later today (Friday). I’ll bring you updates on their status as more information is made public.

Dan Choi’s actions in particular have proven divisive in the LGBT community though. Many have supported Choi’s direct action, calling it a welcome relief from the glacial slowness that has dogged LGBT rights issues, and have said that it can only help draw attention to the cause and will further add pressure for a quick repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’. Some have even hailed Choi and Pietrangelo as heroes.

Others, however, have been less supportive. Those on the opposing side of the argument offer that, by carrying out this act of civil disobedience in uniform, Choi may have undermined the very argument that he wished to outline: That lesbian and gay service personnel can serve in the military without their sexuality being an issue.

Those objecting to Choi’s actions argue that, by carrying out this protest in uniform he has not only broken the military’s rules – and as such will be subject to disciplinary action, perhaps even jail time – but has also blurred the line between civilian life and the military, therein perhaps suggesting that politics may invariably go hand in hand with allowing lesbian and gay personnel to serve openly, something which would likely be taken very seriously by those looking at the legislative repeal.

It does seem, however, that Choi’s arrest has sparked a fire. There are several protests scheduled across America to show solidarity for Lt. Choi and James Pietrangelo, with more likely to come over the next few days.

Also, politico David Mixner today released an article entitled “Is this the Birth of a Civil Rights Movement?” in which he muses as to whether a tipping point has been reached, and cites Choi’s actions and the ENDA action protests that also occurred on Thursday as being  possible evidence that the LGBT community is entering a more pro-active phase in the fight for equality. Mixner’s sentiments are being echoed throughout the blogoshphere, where discussion over Thursday’s events also still rages.

But, what do you think? Was Lt. Choi right to protest DADT in this way? Have your say below.

UPDATE 1: Both Lt. Choi and Captain Pietrangelo have pleaded “not guilty” to the charge of “Failure to Obey A Lawful Order by a Police Officer.” As such, both have been released with a court date set at April 26. Pam’s House Blend has a detailed account including how it felt to see both men in heavy shackles as they were led into the courtroom.

Here is Lt. Choi speaking outside of the courtroom along with Captain Pietrangelo:

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Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to Pam Spaulding.
This post has been updated, please see the bottom of this post for more information.


Doyal D.
Doyal D7 years ago

It's about time gays took direct action. It worked at Stonewall, it ought to serve now.

Mervi R.
Mervi R7 years ago


gail d.
gail dair7 years ago

thanks for post

Kathy & Judy S.
Kathy S7 years ago

I support him as long as he keeps it non-violent(we have enough of that with the republicans).It IS a civil rights issue!!

Thomas S.
7 years ago

Margarita time.

Thomas S.
7 years ago

See "Jim T"? I'm not the only one calling you what you are, a hateful, scared sissy!



Wassiliisia G.
Wassiliisia G7 years ago


Holly M.
H K7 years ago

Civil disobedience is how the Civil Rights Act was finally passed in 1965. From one who lived through that "era", I saw first hand how ugly (and violent) it got. I wish these 2 men well, along with the woman who was "outed" and fired without "telling" anyone she was a lesbian. These brave men and women serve their country honorably, and I hope that one day soon they will be able to do so again.

Sakura l.
Yu L7 years ago

"I think they should kick racists and homophobic folks out of the armed forces.. and every where else." amen. ^^