Posted April 17, 2013

Former Army lieutenant speaks on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal

Joseph B. Schaefer
Dan Choi, a former Army lieutenant and LGBT rights activist, speaks with students in Temple University's Mitten Hall.

"Love will always be worth fighting for,” said former Army Lt. Dan Choi during an April 11 speech at Mitten Hall sponsored by Temple University’s Office of Student Activities. 

“I tell my story today to let [the government] know we won’t disappear,” said Choi, 32.

On March 19th, 2009, Choi made his national television debut on “The Rachel Maddow Show” to comment on the U.S. military policy Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. It was a day that would change his life forever.

Before a national audience, Choi stared into the cameras and said three words: “I am gay.” Stated publicly, those words broke Army regulations and immediately put the decorated Iraq war veteran’s job on the line. He had fallen in love with his boyfriend and could no longer keep quiet.

As a West Point graduate, Iraq war veteran and Arabic linguist, Choi is the kind of soldier the United States Army desperately needs. Regardless, he received a discharge letter following his appearance on the show.

“This is to inform you that sufficient basis exists to initiate action for withdrawal of Federal Recognition in the Army National Guard for moral or professional dereliction,” read the letter. “Specifically, you admitted publicly that you are homosexual, which constitutes homosexual conduct. Your actions negatively affected the good order and discipline of the New York Army National Guard.”

Choi is among 59 gay Arabic linguists, along with nine gay Farsi linguists, who have faced a discharge from the U.S. military from 2004 through 2009, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

In November of 2010, one month before the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, Choi and 12 other protesters chained themselves to the White House fence and shouted, “Let us serve.” Whereas prosecutors had chosen not to pursue charges against Choi following a previous similar incident, this time was different. He and the other protestors were informed they would face federal charges.

“I am somebody. I deserve full equality. Right here. Right Now. I am somebody,” Choi said as he was arrested. He was the only one in the group to plead not guilty.

Although Don't Ask Don't Tell was repealed, just two weeks before his appearance at Temple, Choi was convicted of failing to obey a lawful order and fined $100. His presentation at Temple was his first public appearance since the conclusion of the trial.

Lt. Choi continues to advocate for LGBT civil rights and veteran’s health. He has appeared frequently on national and international news programs and serves on the boards of Marriage Equality USA and the American Foundation for Equal Rights. 

“I have not made a career of this, I have made a life of this,” said Choi. “Being a soldier has made me a better activist and being an activist has made me a better soldier.”