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Interview: Dan Choi on the US military gay ban

Adrian Tippetts April 24, 2009
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In the first part of series of interviews with Dan Choi, the infantry platoon leader leading the fight against ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, Adrian Tippetts highlights the serious national security issues surrounding expelling vital service members for being gay.

After making headlines across America by coming out live on national television, First Lieutenant Dan Choi is feeling understandably elated.

The 27-year old infantry platoon leader in the New York Army National Guard defied the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell gay military ban by announcing he was gay, live on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow TV show.

Choi is a co-founder of Knights Out, a new support group, comprising graduates from the US Military Academy of West Point, for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans military personnel.

The organisation’s mission is both to lobby for the rights of LGBT soldiers to openly serve their country, and to educate West Point’s future military leaders about the need to accept its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender troops.

Dan spoke candidly about the how DADT causes misery for LGBT soldiers, damages morale and threatens national security, while debunking the myths put out by right wing extremists intent on keeping the ban.

“Although getting into West Point wasn’t easy, and completing the four year programme wasn’t any easier, coming out as part of this group was the easiest decision of my service because it validates the foundational lessons of integrity and honor that West Point preached from day one,” he said.

“We swore to follow and execute every order unless it was immoral, unethical or illegal. Title 10 of the US code fails on all three counts because it forces the 65,000 LGBT soldiers serving in active duty to lie about our identity. We stand alongside all our soldiers that are serving their country selflessly in seeking to bring an end to this legislation.”

Even on economics alone – as if liberty and justice should have a price tag – DADT makes no sense. Some 12,500 otherwise able people have been ejected since the policy’s introduction in 1994.

The Pentagon estimated the cost of the policy in the period 1996-2006 alone to be over $360 million. More alarmingly, 800 of these discharges were personnel performing mission-critical roles, including 60 Arabic linguists.

Yet even these may be just the tip of the iceberg. It is impossible to know the number of lesbian and gay soldiers who cut their careers short, because they simply did not want to live a lie, and have the prospect of immediate, dishonourable discharge constantly over their heads.

Dan Choi himself is one such highly able gay serviceman who left active duty in Iraq of his own volition.

Graduating in 2003 with degree major in Arabic studies and a BSc in environmental engineering, and fully trained in infantry training, Choi was committed to playing his part in operation Iraqi Freedom. He proved an indispensable team leader, during his 2006-2007 tour of duty in Baghdad. It is precisely people of Choi’s calibre that has helped to keep the insurgency in check.

“I loved being in the country. My fluency in Arabic enabled me to build strong relationships with the local people and the local government officials, with whom I worked on establishing security and rebuilding efforts.

“But I lived in secret, horrified at the prospect of being kicked out of the army because of who I was.” Despite being a highly valued team member, Choi’s refusal to lie and live a secret, double life left him no alternative but to leave.

Ejecting brave men and women with specialist skills is a threat to national security and leads to a dangerously weakened military, as Choi explains: “On Monday, September 10th 2001, a message was intercepted by the State Department: tomorrow is zero hour.

“Despite its simplicity, nobody was able to translate it. Any of the dozens of linguists already discharged for being gay at the time would have done so easily.”

Adrian Tippetts is a PR consultant working in the graphics industry and occasional commentator on LGBT issues. His spare time revolves around DJ-ing, volunteering for the Albert Kennedy Trust and Belgian beer.

Related topics: Americas

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