Former Army 1st Lt. Dan Choi spoke last Thursday, April 11, of the shift in both personal mindset as well as national thinking needed for LGBT equality to truly be reached.
Presenting his message to a crowd of roughly 75 at Mitten Hall, Choi discussed his personal story, his activism and where he believes the direction of the push for LGBT rights should be next.
Choi was one of the few in his West Point graduating class who fluently spoke Arabic which made him invaluable to the Army during his tour in Iraq. But, after announcing on national television that he was gay, Choi was discharged from the Army in March 2009 due to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which was in place at the time.
“I lost a lot of friends when I came out,” Choi said. “It was a long time before I truly realized I was fired.”
The federal policy was enacted in 1993 to prevent gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military. It was repealed in December 2010 – a little more than 17 years after being passed – and officially nullified in September 2011.
Following his discharge, Choi became a publicized advocate for this repeal. However, activism had got him into trouble on numerous occasions during protests, resulting in being arrested multiple times.
Choi had yet to be found guilty after any of these arrests until he was convicted on March 28 of “failing to obey the order of a law enforcement officer” in 2010. The arrest was made during an anti-DADT protest outside of the White House where he and a similarly passionate friend handcuffed themselves to the front fence.
“We had to do it that way,” Choi said. “We wanted the president to remember us.”
He faced up to six years in prison, but instead received a $100 fine. Despite this, he said he will appeal the verdict.
Choi also spoke of the future for LGBT rights in the military beyond repealing DADT. He said this next step is for allowing transgender service.
The military currently has a ban on all transgender service with the concern that those who have had sexual reassignment surgery are dependent on hormone treatments, which becomes a military issue when cut off from supplies.
Advocates for LGBT rights use the Israeli military as a model to explain working alternatives. With very few exceptions, Israel requires its citizens over 18 years old to serve, making discrimination counterproductive.
“I see no problem in using another country as a model,” Dylan Morpurgo, president of Temple College Democrats, said. “It’s a good sign when we can see our own problems.”
Financial and housing security is another issue for both military and civilian LGBT members. The repeal of DADT had a clause taken out which would have prevented continued discrimination for insurance, housing and disability benefits. In the civilian world, these protections are determined by state governments.
Although Pennsylvania does have laws preventing discrimination by race, ethnicity, age and religion, there is no protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“Pennsylvania is not a progressive state,” Morpurgo said. “It’s a long road to LGBT equality.”
Currently, the constitutionality of a federal level ban on gay marriage is being discussed in the Supreme Court. If this ban is shot down, gay marriage would not be nationally legal, but rather the choice would be left to the state governments. Choi rejects the idea altogether.
“It’s not for a politician or nine judges to decide who I am,” Choi said. “I am the one who gets to define my identity.”
There is a need for a change in cultural thinking on the issue to completely reach equality, Choi said. He explained when coming out, his biggest challenge was telling his parents who believed it “was the big sin, the big shame.”
Choi also urged for a personal mental change to happen.
“You must repeal DADT in your heart,” he said. “After all, there is a younger generation relying on us.”
Marcus McCarthy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.