Lt. Dan Choi talks about Grindr, responds to criticism that his speaking fee is way too high

As you can see above, The Village Voice’s cover story this week is about Lt. Dan Choi. It’s a really interesting piece, and not just because it talks in detail about Choi’s use of the Grindr iPhone application. The story deserves a read in its entirety, but we wanted to point you to one particular section in which Choi responds to recent criticism on DallasVoice.com from Texas Tech activist Nonnie Ouch. We’ve put in a message to Ouch to get her response to Choi’s response, but we haven’t heard back, so for now here’s the excerpt from the VV story:

Others have criticized Choi for supposedly charging too much for speaking engagements.

“I’ve lost all respect for you as a gay- and human-rights activist,” Nonnie Ouch, president of the Gay-Straight Alliance at Texas Tech University, wrote in an open letter to Choi in August. Ouch, bemoaning “the exorbitant amount of $10,000 to get you out here,” wrote that “after nine months of dealing with your agent, I received an e-mail directly from you. In short, you basically said that the only way I could get you to speak is if I raised enough money to bring you to Tech. No deals, no compromises, end of story.”

Ouch had first seen Choi at the National Equality March in October 2009, where she was inspired by his “Love Is Worth It!” speech. It broke her heart, she wrote, to tell him, “You, sir, have lost sight in one of those many $10,000 checks written to you, of why you came out and became an activist in the first place.”

Asked about it, Choi calls it “a strange situation” but is dismissive of Ouch’s description of Texas Tech students who wanted to hear him as “poor college kids in an extremely conservative city.” The poorest kids, Choi argues, “are not going to college.” He says he’s proud of the fact that he’s been taking care of himself “since I left high school,” by getting appointed to West Point and serving in the military. And he says that he donates a great deal of his fees to homeless LGBT youth of color, “who are really the poorest and the most marginalized.”

Besides, students can get funds, he maintains, through their student activity boards and other sources to pay his appearance fees. He says he thinks the dispute “wasn’t about money.” He has a rider in his speaking contract that stipulates he won’t come to a school unless all campus groups are invited—gay, military, Christian—and that “they must invite the most homophobic group, four times, in writing.”

When the Texas Tech kids wouldn’t play ball by his rules, he says, “I didn’t have time for it.”

Money is a touchy subject for Choi, who says that, regardless of the amount he charges, “there are those who even question, ‘Who are you to charge anything?’ ” It’s no one’s business, he says, but “those plane tickets don’t buy themselves.” Over the past couple of years, he has gone from earning $62,000 a year down to about $700 a month (from a monthly disability check for his Iraq service, which has left him 50 percent disabled with a lung condition that, he says, won’t prevent him from re-enlisting).

—  John Wright

Disappointed in Dan Choi

Dear Lt. Dan Choi,

When I attended the National Equality March in October 2009, I went with hopes of being inspired, becoming more informed, and a fire to fuel my college town and the city where I came out, which has been plagued as one of the most conservative cities in the nation. While gathering for the march to the nation’s Capitol, I was awestruck by the thousands of people who surrounded me. Queer college students from Connecticut, various gay couples who had been together for many years in a partnership that is not legally recognized, children with their same-sex parents, out of the closet, in the closet, Texans, Mexicans, Blacks, Asians, veterans, and even dogs donning rainbow attire. I no longer felt alone in my passion for fighting for what is right. I met people who had, like myself, scrounged together money to be able to attend such a momentous and life-changing event. I was 19 years old, in college, and ready to begin my journey to changing the world.

That day, I heard Cleve Jones speak. “We don’t organize to march, we march to organize.” he said. That sentence impacted me tremendously. He had just given me a huge responsibility. He told me that the fight didn’t stop on the grassy lawn of the Capitol. He forced me to make my scope of reality wider and bigger than I had anticipated. This wasn’t about me being at the National Equality March. This wasn’t about marching with 155,000 people who wanted the same thing as I did. This was about me going back to my small, conservative college town and creating my own movement. I took his words to heart, but I still wasn’t sold.

I was sitting on the ground when you began speaking. Then I heard you say, “But of all those things that are worth fighting for, love is worth it. Love is worth it!” I got goosebumps and immediately rose to see you speak, despite my exhaustion. As you were finishing, I had tears in my eyes. What you said impacted me more than any other speaker that day. I had then decided that I was in undeniable agreement with you — that love was worth it. Love was worth what were to be sleepless nights, three-hour conference calls, upsetting those who didn’t want change, inspiring those who did, and growing into myself all at the same time. Because of you, I decided that love was worth traveling to places to participate in demonstrations and protests when I couldn’t afford it, holding people in the movement accountable for their actions, educating those who were ignorant, and loving those who hate. After all, no amount of money can equate to love, right?

Since the march, I watched your speech over and over again to the point of memorization. For a long while, people would ask me why I am an activist, and I would say simply, “Because love is worth it.” Since that march, I began the arduous journey to get you to speak at my school, Texas Tech University. While speaking to your extremely rude agent, hype began to spread about your appearance. People were excited, and I just knew with my entire being that if I could get you to speak to the people I help every day, a fire would be lit in the queer community of Lubbock, Texas. To me, the mere hope of reaching out to those who meet my words with deaf ears was worth putting up with your agent and the exorbitant amount of $10,000 to get you out here. I never for a moment questioned why it was that much, or why you were charging anything at all.

I had the privilege of speaking during an event to commemorate the 41st anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion in Dallas. I spoke to the marchers with intensity and all of the passion I had. I made sure they felt every word to the core just as I did when I heard you speak. I ended with telling them to, “Own their own truth.” Many have wondered what that means. I’ll explain it as this: Owning your own truth is holding yourself accountable as a participating person for the progress of the movement. Owning your truth can start by coming out, loving yourself, loving others like you and who differ from you, and progressing to sacrificing and putting together events for the movement for equality.

Make sure you read the definition of owning your own truth carefully.

About a month ago, after nine months of dealing with your agent, I received an e-mail directly from you. In short, you basically said that the only way I could get you to speak is if I raised enough money to bring you to Tech. No deals, no compromises, end of story.

Sir, before I say my point, I want to say that I respect you as a servicemember and war veteran of this country. My brother graduated from the Air Force Academy a year after you graduated from West Point, and I have the utmost respect for both of you for that. I appreciate your service and risking your life to protect mine.

However, I’ve lost all respect for you as a gay- and human-rights activist. In the course of my two short years as an activist in the communities I have lived in, I have met amazing people such as Irene Andrews, C.d. Kirven and Michael Robinson, who travel from city to city, state to state with their own money and ask NOTHING from those who request their speaking services. These people, like myself, live, breath and eat queer activism. They live to inspire others. They live to show the compassion of love to others. They have not lost sight of what is truly important here: equality for all.

You, sir, have lost sight in one of those many $10,000 checks written to you, of why you came out and became an activist in the first place. Remember, Lt. Choi? LOVE IS WORTH IT. LOVE is worth cutting a deal to poor college kids in an extremely conservative city who’s only desire is to make headway in their community. LOVE is worth sacrificing money to give my friends and others who are currently serving in silence the hope to remember they are worth it. Love isn’t made by money. Love isn’t made by your agent, Alec Melman. Love isn’t tangible when you’re suffocated by greed as you are. Love is constantly flowing through the heart and brain. Love is giving. Love isn’t defined by financial status, color, gender, creed, age or sexual orientation.

Your definition of love is no longer my definition of love.

So, I ask you, Lt. Choi: Own your truth. Hold yourself accountable for your actions. Look at what you preach and see if it matches your actions. Think about when you were my age, just going into West Point, and feeling alone next to your brothers and sisters. Remember Matthew. Remember Irene, C.d. and Michael. Remember me. Remember those 155,000 people who heard your words. After you do that, think about those in Lubbock, Texas, and other cities who couldn’t “afford” you and how you could have changed their lives.

This is about love, sir. Not money.

Best,
Nonnie Ouch

Texas Tech University
Gay-Straight Alliance
President
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—  John Wright