BY KYLE SCHAFER, Staff Writer
Army Lieutenant Dan Choi visited campus last week to tell his story about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and his discharge from the U.S. Army.
The event was the creation of the Student Activities Office, with the help of on-campus LGBT programming. “He’s definitely a national figure, in terms of LGBT advocacy,” said Director of Student Activities Kris Day, who went on to say, “I saw him at an event in March 2011, and thought he would be a good figure to bring to campus.”
Lieutenant Choi, a West Point graduate and Iraq War veteran, gained notoriety in 2009, when he announced that he was gay on an episode of The Rachel Maddow Show, and was subsequently discharged from the Army due to the Army’s former “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
What helped bring about greater awareness to the controversial policy were his skills as an Arabic translator. In a war set in an Arab nation, it was not prudent to discharge an Arabic translator due to a policy that discriminates against sexual preference.
Since that event, Lt. Choi has become an outspoken LGBT activist. In 2010, Choi, along with fellow ousted, gay soldiers, was twice arrested after handcuffing himself to the gate outside the White House, in a sit-in style protest against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The policy was repealed in September 2011.
Lt. Choi delivered the lecture about his personal story that used an often humorous and relatable delivery (like quoting Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love”) to connect with the audience, and spoke to the larger themes of equality, integrity, and honor.
Lt. Choi spoke about being raised in a Korean-American household as a Southern Baptist. He was in the closet, even from his parents. While in the military, he had to hide his relationship with his boyfriend, Matthew, by referring to him as “Martha” to fellow soldiers and family members.
“There’s paranoia that a soldier should not have to go through, when you’re on the front lines, and you’re sacrificing doubly,” said Lt. Choi, adding, “It’s also a feeling of isolation and loneliness of not being able to share your most intimate self with anybody in a way that comforts.”
He brought a real human face to the subject of being gay and coming out of the closet when he told his story of coming out to his parents, who initially refused to believe him. Stories about his mother had him doing a high-pitched impression of her, similar to that of comedian Margaret Cho. The humor of the situations kept the lecture lighthearted, yet still on point.
As his prepared remarks drew to a close, he called on the crowd to repeat after him a set of simple words, “I am somebody. I deserve full equality, right here, right now.” He is a big believer in not postponing one’s personal liberties and rights, as that was the thesis of his lecture.
When asked about his impact on the repeal of the policy, Lt. Choi said, “I think everybody who stood up and dared to violate ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ in order to get it repealed, did the most good.” This was in reference to the domino effect of other gay soldiers coming out of the closet in support of the cause.
As to whether he would like to rejoin the Army, Lt. Choi remarked, “I think it has been an on-again-off-again relationship.” He applied to rejoin the Army in October 2010, and stated, “I would like to serve in any capacity that I’m needed.”
The event was well attended, and Lt. Choi’s message touched many of those in attendance. “We were thrilled with the positive reaction, and the impact he had on our students,” remarked Day.
After the event, those in attendance met with Lt. Choi, shook his hand, asked him questions, and some even got their picture with him. Said Day, “He stayed over an hour with the students, and that showed us he was the right person to bring on campus.”