Instrumental in the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell
by Lawrence Ferber
One of the loudest voices in the
effort to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" over the past couple of years has been that of Lt. Dan Choi, a West Point graduate, Arabic linguist, and Iraq veteran. Unable to reconcile the Military Academy's code of honor and truth with the lying and deception inherent to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Choi came out on The Rachel Maddow Show and helped launch Knights Out, "an organization of West Point alumni, staff, and faculty who support the rights of LGBT soldiers to serve openly." A month later, Choi was discharged. He went to challenge the discharge, sent an open letter to President Obama and all members of Congress, and became a full-time activist to repeal DADT and for LGBT civil rights on a whole, lobbying politicians, getting arrested (the trial over his November 2010 arrest for handcuffing himself to the White House fence is ongoing at press time), lecturing, and appearing at pride events. "I've found truth in the knowledge that being a soldier makes you a better activist," he shares, "and being an activist certainly makes you a better soldier." Choi feels the repeal of DADT is only the "warm-up lap," since the issues of partner benefits, adoptions, and other federal-level rights are still withheld. From his current home base of New York City, Choi joined us in the VIP Lounge.
Many countries allow openly gay soldiers to serve. Did you hold any of these up as examples during the fight for the repeal of DADT?
That was important in convincing certain people in power it would be OK—like Israel in particular. Knowing that Israel's military has to deal with dangerous situations every single day, and they don't have issues with unit cohesion, and people are certainly not resigning or going AWOL in protest.
You were arrested in Moscow in May 2011 during a gay rights demonstration, how was that experience?
First of all, it was an honor to be a part of that—to be able to stand with other [international LGBTs] regardless of borders as the larger family that we are. It was unique. We should remember that while we have pride parades all over the world celebrating as a capstone to our political victories, the Stonewall Riots were a first time illegal pride parade. They were fighting against a lot of odds. When we go to places where pride parades are illegal, we are following in the footsteps of what got us here to begin with.
If you could meet with anyone from the past, who would it be, where would you meet, and why?
I would meet Genghis Khan in a battlefield where he was taking a short break and ride into battle together. That would be very fun. I think there's enough we document about people [from history], like with Martin Luther King and Gandhi, there are so many books about them and if you search enough all the questions you will ask are [answered]. But to be able to see some of them in action is something you don't really get to do.
What place in the world is on the top of your list to visit, and what do you want to do while you're there?
I've always heard about Ibiza, and that it's not so well known among Americans. I would go and just forget about the world for a moment.
If you could pay 50 bucks for any one convenience on a flight, what would you want it to be?
Anything? Wow. That the trip be quicker. That way you can spend more time with people when you land.
What are the most essential items in your suitcase?
Always a razor, toothbrush, and passport. And condoms. You should always be protected and be safe.
What is the best or most unique souvenir you ever brought home, and where is it right now?
I really try not to bring too many things home. I never take pictures when I'm traveling. If it's so great the first time, then you'll go back again. You don't need something to remember it.
If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you hope to find there?
Let's see. A piano. I was going to say Twitter and Facebook, but now that I say it, I don't want them when I'm stranded on an island (laughs). For all we know, Facebook is the reason we got stranded on the island! So, I would say piano, a guitar, and a toothbrush.
I understand that you have attempted to reenlist in the military since your discharge. Is this still the case?
I think as quick as this federal trial gets done, it would be an honor to go back, and I have my application in process now. It takes time, of course.