Interview: Dan Choi on the extra burdens Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell places on soldiers
In the second part of a series of interviews, Dan Choi tells Adrian Tippetts of the mental and emotional burden the gay ban places on service members.
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.
Speaking exclusively to PinkNews.co.uk, he said: “We all face the same dangers, and the prospect of never returning. But LGBT soldiers carry many extra burdens. We silently suffer the fear of coming out, the constant threat of being discharged at any minute, having to deny the existence of loved ones, and in some cases, even harassment and blackmail.”
It is arguably no coincidence that Daniel left Iraq as his relationship with his partner, who lives in New York, began to flourish.
On the distress gay couples suffer, he adds: “While straight couples say their goodbyes publicly at the send-off ceremony, we must do this in secret. If anything happened to us, our partners would not even be informed. They would have no rights, and be unable to make any kind of decisions on our behalf.”
“Considering all the things a soldier has to go through, we should be encouraging stronger relationships and stronger families. To deny the existence of that whole family and love relationship makes life unnecessarily harder,” Choi added.
One of the military’s most urgent concerns is the mental health of its service members.
Deaths by suicide after returning home – usually a result of post traumatic stress disorder – now outnumber those killed in combat.
LGBT service people are likely to be deprived of real help because any medical and psychiatric personnel they confide in are bound to disclose their sexuality to their superiors.
Choi says: “Right now, there’s a major drive to ensure all personnel get psychiatric help and counselling, so they can transition to civilian life. For the gay soldier, faced with the fear of coming out to their friends, and illegally serving, there is nothing but a discharge, without benefits, and no support.
“Every day of this law adds to the pain of those suffering in silence. It is treachery and hypocrisy of the lowest order to treat people who sacrifice their lives in this way.”