17 months after he came out on Maddow’s show, Army lieutenant hears about discharge from media

Chuck Colbert  |  Contributing Writer CrcIIIUND@aol.com

Dan Choi
UNDER ARREST | Law enforcement officers arrest Lt. Dan Choi, center, after he handcuffed himself to the fence outside the White House during a protest against DADT in April. Choi learned last week, 17 months after he came out as a gay man on The Rachel Maddow Show, that he had finally been officially discharged. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

It was official first. Now it’s public. Army infantry officer and Arabic language specialist Dan Choi has been discharged from the armed services, effective June 29.

“Based on board findings that [Lt.] Daniel Choi did publicly admit, one more than one occasion, in person and through the media, that he is a homosexual, such conduct being in violation of [Army and National Guard regulations], I direct that Choi be discharged from the New York Army National Guard with an honorable characterization of service,” Brig. Gen. Patrick A. Murphy in the official discharge papers.

And media sources learned that the discharge was official apparently before Choi.

Choi first learned of his discharge through a telephone call from his commander, according to a Newsweek report last week. From yet another source, the Iraqi war veteran discovered that his father, living in Orange County, Calif., had received a letter, the official discharge notification, sometime earlier.

The West Point alumnus and his father, a Southern Baptist minister, are not on speaking terms, a family communications breach that explains the information time lag.

Still, the 29-year-old Army man stands resolute. Issuing a statement following his discharge notice, Choi said the news is “both infuriating and painful,” coming after 11 years of military service that began at the U.S. Military Academy and that includes 17 months of service as an openly gay man.

Choi said his “service continues,” adding, “To all those veterans who have endured similar trials and injustices or prematurely ended their military service because of the unjust policy: Our fight has only begun.”

Choi’s military discharge bring to a close 17 months of activism that began on national television on May 7, 2009, when he said on the Rachel Maddow Show three words: “I am gay.”

His statement was a clear violation of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and since then he has spoken out continuously, advocating coast-to-coast for repeal of the nearly 17-year old federal law and Pentagon policy that bans openly gay service.

Choi’s lift-the-ban odyssey even included a March 18, 2010, arrest outside the White House for a non-violent civil disobedience protest against the DADT policy.

In that incident, he and another former Army officer, Capt. James Pietrangelo, handcuffed themselves to an iron fence surrounding 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Charges of refusing to obey a lawful order were filed against Choi in connection with the protest but later dropped.

Reaction to Choi’s brand of direct-action advocacy in the LGBT community has been mixed, but critics of his methods gained traction after he ended a seven-day hunger strike on June 3 without achieving his stated goals. Bil Browning, co-founder of the Bilerico Project, wrote on his blog, “With all of Choi’s recent actions, tons of media appearances, chaining himself to the White House fence and this hunger strike, many in the community think Choi’s gone off the deep end. They say this has become more about his ego than a smart strategy to repeal DADT quickly.”

The dynamics of the situation appeared shift yet again at the recent Netroots Nation meeting in Las Vegas when Choi appeared onstage with Nevada Democrat and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Panel moderator Joan McCarter presented Reid with Choi’s West Point ring, along with a copy of his discharge papers.

Reid promised to return the ring after DADT’s repeal, Choi’s said he would hold Reid accountable for his word.  On stage together, the two men shook hands and embraced.

Copyright ©2010 Chuck Colbert.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 30, 2010.