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LT Dan Choi

July 22, 2010
This morning I received notification of my honorable discharge from the army under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." After 11 years since beginning my journey at West Point and after 17 months of serving openly as an infantry officer this is both an infuriating and painful announcement.

But my service continues. To all those veterans who have endured similar trials and injustices or prematurely ended their military service because of the unjust policy: our fight has only begun. 

The true honor and dignity of service does not come from a piece of paper, a pension or paycheck, a rank or status; only an unflinching commitment to improve the lives of others can determine the nature of one's service. From the first moment we put on our nation's uniform and swore our solemn oath, we committed ourselves to fight for freedom and justice; to defend our constitution and put the needs of others before our own. This is not an oath that I intend to abandon. Doing so at such a time, or remaining silent when our family and community members are fired or punished for who they truly are would be an unequivocal moral dereliction that tarnishes the honor of the uniform and insults the meaning of America.

Lt. Dan Choi

Interview with LT Dan Choi
July 22, 2010
by Denny Meyer

I'm old enough and fortunate enough to have, in my lifetime, known both Leonard Matlovich and Dan Choi.  They both have been able to inspire those around them with their shear courage and dedication to freedom.  The question is, what motivated them to risk their military careers, what inspired them?  One immediately thinks of the word "sacrifice."  But, as Dan Choi explains in this interview, he sees his actions as his "Duty."  While clearly, on this day, he expresses great frustration with both the lack of progress and particularly with those lacking his undaunted commitment; he remains determined to carry on with what he sees as his duty, our duty, to speak out and demand equality.

Times have changed. Back in the mid 1970s and early 1980s, Leonard Matovich was essentially unemployable after having been Discharged for being a self-proclaimed homosexual.  Although he was regularly in demand to give speeches and lead parades, he earned his living as a used car salesman during the years that his case proceeded through the courts.  Today, 35 years later, Dan Choi, Honorably Discharged due to being a self-proclaimed homosexual, could go to work for the State Department, other federal agencies, or as a civilian contractor to the military as an Arab linguist.  Whatever he ultimately chooses to do, he represents an heroic triumph of truth.

Gay Military Signal: Dan, you are a true hero!  But, even heroes have feelings.  In your published statement (above) today about receiving notice of your discharge due to DADT, you speak inspiringly about the meaning and purpose of what you are doing; but what of your personal reaction and feeling on this day?

Dan Choi: As much as you prepare, you can never be a hundred percent comfortable with a discharge notification because your emotions bring back the entire time of your service.  You remember from the moment you raised your right hand; you think about your parents; the day you first put on your uniform; running and doing PT, calling cadence; being shipped off to war; going to all the schools, all your friends; and -for me- coming out and what it meant.  It all just comes back in that one singular moment that is defined by a piece of paper that says, "You're fired." So, that piece of paper encapsulates the entire huge emotional roller coaster.  Obviously, there is the feeling of honor about what you've accomplished; and the feeling of honor from all the people who have supported my journey, who have been there with me getting arrested on the (White House) fence, or speaking out on my behalf whether as individuals or a part of organizations.  Everybody who has spoken out, I feel, has been on this journey together with all of us.  They understand what this all means; what being kicked out means, what the risk and consequences were.  But, its difficult, when you think about all of that (at this particular moment).

GMS: What does it mean to you?

Dan Choi: It means, number one, undeniably, that we live in a time of rampant discrimination; I'm just one person getting kicked out.  I've been serving openly for over 17 months in an infantry unit.  I have the qualifications of an Arabic linguist and a translator; but my job is as an infantry officer.  I went through all of the schools at Ft. Benning, I went through my time as a Platoon Leader, I was deployed as an infantryman on patrols; and I'm still an infantryman.  When we go to training, we are in the WWII barracks with open showers, when we drill every month, or ship out to qualify on our weapons, or practicing battle drills or military operations in urban terrain and mountain training.  It's all standard infantry training; and when we come back we shower.  And we are naked in the shower.  And nobody has quit; nobody has protested; nobody has hate-crimed me; nobody has given me dirty looks.  We joke together, people ask me questions about transgender people and marriage equality; they have questions because many don't know any other gay people.  But, others have come up to me and said, I want you to know that my brother is gay or my cousin is gay.  Some of my soldiers educate "me" about gay culture because they know a parent or someone else.  One of my peers told me who Rufus Wainright was.  What it all means is that even with going to drill as an openly gay person, my soldiers come up to me and salute and say, "We respect you more because you told the truth; and if we were going to go to Afghanistan or Iraq, I'd want to serve with someone honest, who is not hiding."

I think there are a lot of gay veterans who have a backwards view of what service means; tying themselves up with the sentiment and emotional impact of the uniform, the flag, and apple pie.  That is not what service is about, and to claim ownership of all that is theft.  I think that service is always purely and primarily about protecting our country, fighting for freedom and justice, and putting the good of others before yourself.  It's not about the symbols.  It's not about how it gives you a feeling when you tear up; those are emotions.  And that's not what it means to serve.  It's un-American to say that service just equals our emotional reaction.  Service is something very sacred, very honorable, and very dignified that formed in our society and our history for a reason.  We don't serve anybody if we just say, the uniform and flag mean this to me.  That's not patriotic; patriotic means you serve and sacrifice by putting others before yourself.  Patriotic means you sometimes break those regulations that are immoral and unjustifiable in relation to our American way of life.

The way I understand the Constitution and my oath to defend the Constitution is to defend it against enemies foreign and domestic.  In Iraq we were told we were there to protect our Constitution.  And when I come home, the oath doesn't end.  We have a solemn obligation and responsibility to defend our constitution and its meaning.  Our constitution is under attack in its meaning, in its purpose, and written law.  When you have regulations that say, "Do not tell the truth, do not have integrity; you cannot access your own truth, you are not allowed to acknowledge to people that you love, you are not allowed to get married," if you die in Iraq or Afghanistan your partner will not be notified—those things are contrary to what our country means, what our culture and Constitution mean about respecting our troops, and supporting our ideals about family and marriage and love.

For me, that's what this journey has been all about.  It means a lot more than whether or not I get a pension or achieve a certain rank.  In a lot of ways, rank and pension and symbols and sentiment work contrary to our goal.  I found, in this past year and a half, that a lot of gay veterans can never "step up" and contribute by coming out and being a part of this movement by making the world a better place.  They are trapped.  At this point I feel that to not speak out is a dereliction of you duty to future generations.  Silence is not a moral neutrality; it is the vehicle that perpetuates discrimination.  Silence creates a culture that is contrary to what we know (as our duty) is correct.  Leadership in social movements properly involves creating a legacy that improves the lives of others.

We as veterans have got to stop tolerating excuses such as, "Well, I can't come out; I'm not allowed to come out," even though I understand their legal perspective.  I'm an infantry officer.  People in my unit have been to combat multiple times.  When I came out in this unit's environment, we didn't just talk about "Don't Ask Don't Tell;" we didn't just talk about national security, or about speaking Arabic.  We talked about love and boyfriends and girlfriends, transgender people,—we talk about "all" of those people whom we are really fighting to protect.  If you are afraid to bring any of that up because you fear that it might not be palatable "at this time," my message to those who feel that way while at the same time saying, "I'm a tough (expletive)," I say to them, "You are the epitome of cowardice."  If you cannot stand up for those who are most marginalized in our society, because it may not be palatable to do so, your  silence is a dereliction of moral duty and mission.  It's a deep shame for the sake of political efficacy, when we are fighting for justice.  The bottom line is, there is no such thing as, "I can't come out."  I've proved that you can come out.

GMS:  What struck me, in looking at your discharge notice, was the phrase, "due to saying that you are a homosexual;" and imagining how that will be seen say 80 years from now when people will be incredulous at the backwardness of attitudes back at the turn of this century.  What do you think will be the future historical context of that document.

Dan Choi: It's not my goal to be historical.  Its purpose would be to educate those of future generations.  So I think it's beautiful that Leonard Matlovich put pink triangles on his gravestone.  Because it hearkens back to our history, and reminds us that there are lessons to be learned; and we have not yet come to where we need to go.  Leonard Matlovich died without seeing the ban on open service lifted; he died without seeing gay people being able to get married; he died (of AIDS) without hearing the President utter the word AIDS.  There is so much that still needs to happen.  As we die, we leave things for other people to remember. The thing that I want for people to remember is that the uniform stands for fighting for freedom and justice; and if you do not fight for those sacred American promises, then you don't deserve to wear the uniform.  The uniform has been used to bring about justice and freedom from the time of the American Revolution.  People have told me that "the use of this symbol of America in your civil disobedience is treacherous and wrong and rude and is like burning the flag."  Yet from the beginning of our country there were those who seemed to be willing to trample sentiment with heavy feet, and what was important and what mattered was not sentiment but where those feet were going.  What mattered was the direction in which we were headed.  For officers, today, to forget that is a shame.

  2010 Gay Military Signal