Lt. speaks about battle against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

By Gretchen Andersen

The shouts coming from David Lawrence Hall Thursday night echoed those of Lt. Dan Choi when he… The shouts coming from David Lawrence Hall Wednesday night echoed those of Lt. Dan Choi when he handcuffed himself to the White House’s fence last year to protest “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“I am somebody. I deserve full equality. Right here, right now,” the audience shouted in unison with Choi.

Choi, a prominent gay rights activist, shared his personal story and fight against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” with more than 200 audience members. The 45-minute lecture, which was followed by questions from the audience, was sponsored by Rainbow Alliance.

An Iraq War veteran, Choi graduated from the U.S. Military Academy and served as an Arabic linguist in combat from 2006 to 2007. Shortly after appearing on the “Rachel Maddow Show,” where he came out as gay, Choi received a letter of discharge from the Army.

Since that moment, Choi has fought for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a policy enacted during the Clinton administration that banned gay and lesbian people from serving openly in the armed forces.

Along with a couple of other veterans, Choi handcuffed himself to the White House’s fence in 2010, went to jail, marched in gay rights protests and faced prosecution. Gay communities credit him for helping the movement to repeal the controversial legislation, which Congress repealed on Sept. 20, 18 years after its enactment.

“Although I was able to die for my country, I couldn’t live equally in my country,” Choi said.

Choi said he fell in love at age 27.

“I finally understand what you straight people were talking about. Like those romance novels in the grocery store,” Choi said, smiling. “It’s like that Beyonce song, ‘got me looking so crazy in love.’”

Choi decided to come out to his parents in December 2008, after hearing his mother repeatedly ask one question.

“When you marry Korean girl?” Choi said, imitating her accent.

Choi spoke to the audience about waiting to come out, calling it a self-inflicted hate crime.

“The philosophy of waiting tells you, as the oppressed person, that this is now not your time,” Choi said. “That maybe you should wait two more years, wait an election cycle, wait to raise money and then come out.”

Choi argued that homophobia isn’t the correct term for talking about gay oppression. Instead, he said, it is “straight supremacy, and they shove it in the media, advertising and more.”

Choi cited how the LGBT community is the only group of people “born into a culture that is opposed to our idea of equality, that we are morally inferior and biologically inferior.”

Tricia Dougherty, the president of Rainbow Alliance, said Choi is one of the most visible advocates for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” She wanted to bring him to Pitt after attending the National Conference on LGBT equality — the Creating Change conference — last year, where Choi attended one of the workshops with her.

Junior Walter Rogal said he attended the lecture because he wanted to hear Choi’s account of how he dealt with coming out in the military and fighting the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation.

“I thought he was great. Dan Choi was a very good speaker and had a valid opinion on the current status of the government’s position on gay rights,” Rogal said.

Rainbow Alliance executive assistant Ryan Ricarte saw Choi speak in Washington, D.C., a few years ago and noted Choi as someone who is culturally relevant.

“For the past couple years, he used civil disobedience to fight ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” Ricarte said. “He worked every day tirelessly to change how we should focus on the future.”

Choi said to the audience that although he has fought on many battlefields, the battlefield of “love and justice” is what he prefers.

“That’s the battlefield I’ve always wanted to fight on,” Choi said. “The righteous battlefield for civil rights. We will not wait.”

[Editor’s note: Corrections have been made to reflect the accurate day of the lecture and that Congress repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”]