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LT Dan Choi

I never felt freer than
being in that prison

A year after he came out publicly on the Rachel Maddow program, LT Dan Choi handcuffed himself to the White House fence, in uniform, on March 18, 2010, to protest the continuing delay in repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell so that he and the rest of us may serve openly.  After what must have been frantic phone calls between local, federal, and military authorities, the US Park Police quietly, calmly, and properly arrested him and Captain Jim Pietrangelo for civil disobedience (failure to obey a lawful order to disburse).  In court the next day, he refused to agree to pay a fine and call it a day as most protestors do to make a point and move on.

A lot of people are confused and don't understand what he is thinking in putting himself at risk like that; he could go to prison.  But, it is in his nature and his patriotism to be willing to sacrifice for the good of his country and his fellow Americans. While most young Americans with ambition went to college and moved into safe careers, Dan went to West Point and served in Iraq willingly risking his life.  Looking at his actions from that perspective, for a person who volunteered to risk being blown up, blinded, or maimed for life in mortal combat, what he did in front of the safe and peaceful White House was hardly dangerous.  He's a patriot who has already demonstrated that he does not fear for his life and personal freedom when he believes the cause is just.  What could be more just than believing in American equality?

After emerging from the courthouse the next morning, he spoke briefly about the meaning of his actions and said, "I never felt freer than being in that prison."  Hearing that, I was immediately reminded of the historical exchange between  Thoreau and Emerson, when Emerson visited Thoreau in jail after his civil disobedience.  Emerson asked, "Henry, what are you doing in there?” Thoreau replied, “Waldo, the question is what are you doing out there?”

LT Choi's comments upon emerging from the courthouse, were transcribed from the video on pamshouseblend.com.

He apparently spoke without notes and was clearly tired and frustrated from being held in jail all night, having been mistreated, and without being allowed phone calls; yet despite the inevitability of misspoken phrases in extemporaneous commentary, his message was clear and may well become another profound American historical moment when viewed in retrospect.

Speaking of himself, he said that there is a dignity in being in chains, as he had been in the courtroom moments before.  Referring to those still serving in silence, he said,  "There are other people who are oppressed who have the chains on themselves in their hearts."  In urging others to follow his example, he said that there is a  "freeing and dignified expression of getting arrested for what you know is absolutely morally right."  And channeling Thoreau and so many before him he intoned, "There was no freer moment than being in that prison. ...I thought of all of the other people that were still trapped, that were still handcuffed and fettered in their hearts."  Expressing disillusionment and frustration with those who lack his total commitment. he said that, "..equality can [not] be purchased with a donation or with a cocktail party or with tokens that are serving in a public role.  We are worth more than tokens."  He urged the President and leaders to 'make America's promises manifest.'  He closed by promising, "We're going to do it again; we're going to keep doing it until the promises are manifest.  And we will not stop."

Some question the wisdom of directly protesting to the President, in front of his house, for not following through quickly enough.  Yet, I suspect that the President, who is a direct beneficiary of the daring and dangerous marches in the 1960s in the American South, might well understand and admire what LT Choi has done.  I sincerely doubt that President Obama would not have noticed the hideous irony that at the same time that LT Choi handcuffed himself to the White House fence demanding freedom, far right extremists shouted vile racial epithets at Black members of Congress, who had participated in those early civil rights marches, while white Republican legislators appeared on a battlement of  the Capitol egging on the bigots.  If there has ever been a textbook moment of American history, this would be one.

In other news, exactly a week after Dan Choi's civil disobedience, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and JCS Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen held a news conference to announce  immediate changes to the investigation and enforcement of DADT violations.  Henceforth, third party outings must be delivered under oath; statements to chaplains, medical personnel and similar helping providers are no longer admissible; and decisions to investigate and discharge personnel due to DADT violations must be made by generals or flag officers.  So, if this is a supposedly sincere policy change, it means that they would now allow 'known' gay service members to continue to serve due to the fact that they tried to follow the rules.  This suggests a tacit realization that sexual orientation does not have any effect on ability to serve, and that past issues of morale, morality, and unit cohesion really have no relevance.  If any of that mattered, how could they allow a known gay service member to continue to serve, regardless of how they found out s/he is gay?  So, why not end the entire policy right now?  That question was indirectly addressed in the news conference when they were asked the purpose of the ongoing yearlong study and an additional year to implement such a change.  Secretary of Defense Gates said that the process was not to decide "if" but rather "how" to make the change to open homosexual service, should Congress repeal the law.  Note that last caveat.  The question is whether that timing will run past the window when Congress has the will to enact repeal.

Meanwhile, the Marine Commandant proclaimed that should DADT be repealed he'd have to consider having separate single room quarters for gay service members to avoid 'forcing' straight Marines to share a room with a homosexual; most Marines are now billeted two to a room.  What?  OK, I served forty years ago.  I recall open bay barracks when I served in the Navy and later in the Army Reserve.  We had to get along in all of our diversity, and that was what enhanced our unit cohesion, our morale, and most importantly our esprit de corps which gives every single service member the courage and determination to pull a fellow out of a burning vehicle after its been hit by an RPG.  Today, as is the case in all of our armed forces, there are gay Marines serving openly in their units without difficulty.  If there is any difference at all, it is that the trust, determination, and mutual respect is even stronger among Marines.  Would the Commandant now also entertain requests to separate Marines based on other common differences?  Aside from having contradicted the will of his superiors, including the President, how could he imagine something so detrimental to our military's most basic element of semper fidelis?

  2010 Gay Military Signal