Lieutenant Dan Choi’s mother responded in confusion when her son told her that he was gay.
‘She said to me, “I love you… but gay doesn’t exist,'” Choi recalled to an attentive crowd that filled the seats of Hubbell Auditorium on Friday night during the ‘Battling Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” event, sponsored by 11 UR organizations.
The U.S. military has arguably adopted a stance on lesbians and gays similar to the initial reaction of Mrs. Choi. Since 1993, 13,000 soldiers have been discharged from the U.S. military for a single reason: They were honest about their sexual orientation.
‘”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ forces us to lie,” Choi said. ‘We don’t have the full dignity of American citizens. We have to lie in order to protect our country.”
Choi, a 2003 West Point graduate who served in Iraq, was discharged from the military after coming out on the Rachel Maddow Show in March of this year. Since then, he has been the figurehead of a movement calling for the abolition of the military’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which prohibits openly gay or lesbian soldiers from serving in the armed forces.
‘Openly” is the key word here. For Choi, there came a time when he could no longer see the military turn a blind eye to the needs of lesbian and gay soldiers who were forced to conceal their sexual orientation whose significant others, for example, didn’t receive the same support as military wives and husbands because, in the mind of the U.S. government, they didn’t exist. Choi didn’t just decide to take action he saw it as his duty to act.
‘It’s not a matter of liberation,” he explained of his decision to publicly come out. ‘It’s not a matter of our rights. It’s not an entitlement or a benefit. It is an obligation. Because people are still struggling.”
The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is no stranger to stringent hostility from the military. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell” was adopted by the U.S. government in 1993 as a result of the opposition that met former president Bill Clinton’s attempt to end a ban on gay and lesbians serving in the armed forces.
President Obama ran a campaign last year on the platform that he would repeal this policy, but the question still remains of when this will happen. Staunch opposition to repealing ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell” does exist over 1,000 veterans recently signed a letter asking the president to uphold the law, stating that ‘imposing this burden on our men and women in uniform would… have adverse effects on the willingness of parents who lend their sons and daughters to military service, and eventually break the all-volunteer force.”
Still, on Oct. 10, a number of news outlets cited that Obama had definite plans to repeal the law. For Choi and other discharged soldiers, it cannot be soon enough. ‘How can we wait?” was his constant refrain on Friday night. The urgency of the situation was echoed by event organizers, such as Pride Network the main sponsor.
For Pride secretary and junior Andrew Moran, ‘Battling Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was also an opportunity to inform a broader audience about the issue at hand.
‘[The event] attracted many attendees, both from the school and the surrounding community, and provided a venue for education about the need to repeal DADT,” Moran said. ‘It is my hope that we were able to change at least one mind by having Lt. Choi speak.”
Choi’s own tale, which he told emotionally on Friday night, was one that intertwines a poignant love story with the values that a military life has instilled. It wasn’t until he met his current boyfriend two years ago that he realized he couldn’t stay silent about his sexual orientation any longer. That it wasn’t just his choice to stand up for himself and for those suffering. It was his responsibility to be a good soldier, to live with integrity.
Perhaps it was also about a more singular American principle one that cites the basic rights of any American citizen, no matter their race, their sex, their religion, their sexual orientation. ‘I didn’t join the military so that I could be homosexual,” Choi said simply on Friday night. ‘I joined so that I can serve my country.”
Hilfinger is a member of the class of 2010.