Whatever Happened to Dan Choi?
December 2nd, 2013
You remember him: the Iraq War veteran and West Point graduate was both the face and the voice of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal effort throughout much of 2009 and 2010. It seemed that anytime there was anybody talking about DADT, he was there. Where has he been since then? Gabriel Arana, Senior Editor at The American Prospect (and former BTB contributor), has a really great profile in the latest issue which brings us up to date with what Choi’s been up to:
On a Wednesday in August, Dan is setting up for Hungry Hungry Hippos night. On the white coffee table, he’s laid out a platter with sliced boiled eggs dusted with paprika; mini carrots and tomatoes; Sour Patch Kids; and a dozen pot cupcakes that have collapsed into themselves. “I can make brownies, but the cupcakes I can’t get right,” he says. He’s got backup: a six-foot glass bong. The table’s centerpiece is Hungry Hungry Hippos, a children’s game in which players operate four plastic mechanical hippos and try to gobble up as many marbles on the board as possible.
By the time an artist friend walks through the door, Dan is stoned, a fact he broadcasts loudly. “I’m high!” he tells her before bursting into high-pitched laughter. Dan offers her a hit, bringing a flame to the bowl. She takes one, exhaling with a grimace.
Activism, especially the very public form of activism Choi engaged in, can chew people up and spit them out. Arana’s profile is a sympathetic, yet cautionary tale of an acclaimed hero whose identity got so wrapped up in a cause that they lost their sense of who they were as an individual:
A few things I am certain of. Washington can make people, even those who fight for human rights, lose their humanity. It gets covered up with talking points, strategy, branding. At the height of Dan’s celebrity, few in the repeal movement pulled him aside and said, “All this doesn’t matter more than you do. Let’s go home.” …None of this is to say Dan would have listened. He had fallen in love with his own martyrdom. He had conflated activism with celebrity.
Sen. Reid Returns Lt. Choi’s West Point Ring
December 22nd, 2010
Update: Lt. Choi’s clever reaction via Twitter: “The next time I get a ring from a man, I expect it to be for full, equal, American marriage.”
Dan Choi To Enlist in the Marines, SLDN Issues Caution
October 19th, 2010
Lt. Dan Choi, who was discharged last summer from the New York National Guard under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” is taking advantage of the latest reports indicating that military recruiters will now take applicants from prospective LGBT servicemembers. Choi just Tweeted the following:
I’m gonna try to enlist in the Marines today. Anyone else can meet me at NYC Times Sq now.
Maanwhile, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network today issued this word of caution:
“During this interim period of uncertainty, service members must not come out and recruits should use caution if choosing to sign up. The ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law is rooted in any statement of homosexuality made at anytime and to anyone. A higher court is likely to issue a hold on the injunction by Judge Phillips very soon. The bottom line: if you come out now, it can be used against you in the future by the Pentagon. As the DOJ fights to keep this unconstitutional and oppressive law, we are monitoring active-duty clients’ cases and fielding calls every day to our hotline. Given the uncertainty in the courts, we urge the Senate to act swiftly next month on repeal when they return to Washington.”
Update: Oh the ignominy! The old fart just Tweeted an update:
In the recruiting station. Apparently I’m too old for the Marines! Just filled out the Army application
Does This Mean Harry Reid Gets To Keep Dan Choi’s Ring?
September 22nd, 2010
If we’re going to cast blame for yesterday’s debacle in the Senate as Democrats failed to break a Republican filibuster against a Defense Appropriations Bill that would begin the process of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” it is important to make sure everyone is accounted for. First and foremost, primary responsibility must fall on all forty Republicans and the two Democrats, Arkansans Blanche L. Lincoln and Mark Pryor, who supported the filibuster. They will be remembered for being on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of what some three-fourths of the American people support.
But anyone with any powers of observation over the circumstances under which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid brought the bill to the floor cannot reasonably escape the conclusion that the filibuster suits his political purposes as well, as he and many other Senate Democrats struggle to hold onto their seats in tight mid-term campaigns. To not recognize that what happened yesterday was nothing but political theater, and that all the participants came away with something they wanted going into the final stretch of the campaign season — well let’s just say that just because Schoolhouse Rock didn’t cover political theater, it doesn’t mean it’s not an important byproduct of the legislative process, even if (or especially if) a bill fails to become a law. And in this case, that nasty byproduct was more important than actually doing the horse-trading it takes to pass the bill itself.
Last July when Reid appeared at Netroots Nation in Las Vegas, he was approached by Lt. Dan Choi, who had just been discharged from the Army. Choi handed Reid his West Point ring with the promise that Choi would hold Reid accountable for passing DADT’s repeal. “When the bill’s signed, I’ll keep it safely and then give it back to him,” Reid said. I guess the ring is still safe somewhere.
Criticism of Choi continues
This commentary is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily that of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.
August 4th, 2010
As I’ve said before, Dan Choi has no obligation to engage in activism. Nor should there be any expectation that he do so for free. The man needs to make a living.
But if his activism decisions appear in any way to be based solely on financial considerations, that is going to anger some who feel disappointed or slighted. One such person is Nonnie Ouch, the president of the Gay-Straight Alliance at Texas Tech University.
Nonnie had been a fan. (Dallas Voice)
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?
But she is now disappointed.
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.
Dan Choi is completely entitled to choose his own appearances and to base those decisions on anything he likes. But I think that he was perhaps unwise in the way in which he is conducting his business.
Appearing to prioritize payment over activism – whether true or just perception – has hurt his ability to appear self-less, an asset that is can add to the effectiveness of his advocacy. Going forward, let’s hope he is able to avoid leaving that impression and finds a way instead to convey his inability to attend events in a manner that does not disillusion local grassroots activists or anger those who may feel slighted.
Is Dan Choi paid for activism?
This commentary is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect those of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin
July 30th, 2010
LezGetReal’s Melanie Nathan is reporting some interesting observations about Lt. Dan Choi’s activism. Although she had been a fan and supporter, her curiosity was peaked by Choi’s seeming delay in reporting his discharge.
After reading the piece, it seemed rather odd to me that a month had gone by and Dan had not made his discharge public. I too thought, for the man who has become the face of DADT repeal, letting people know about an event like his discharge under DADT should have been a pretty important event to Dan as well. As an activist why did he not immediately inform the LGBT community, all who have invested in his journey and had eyes on his every move.
So while not my beat, I began to look for my own answers. I first asked Dr. Brooks what was up with all of this?
She told me she thought, in her opinion, Choi had probably turned “pro” and the reason for not saying anything about the discharge might stem from the fact the uniform was a pretty good prop and to wear the uniform after you are discharged, is a federal crime. She also told me she has been trying to get him to clear up some questions she had about financial issues for better then a month.
Melanie’s investigation led her to the discovery that Dan Choi has an agent and is being paid speakers fees for his appearances.
One of many sources who asked to remain anonymous, has informed Lez Get Real “I know for a fact that what you are saying about Lt. Choi is true and factual. He spoke at Texas A & M. Lt. Choi was one of my biggest inspirations because I too am a US Veteran, and I am gay too. I have since also questioned his motives tremendously, and lost a lot of respect for him as a person, and as a soldier and activist.
He required Texas A & M to pay him $7500 and then tacked on an additional $2300 for travel expenses. He also required that they fly him first class. His agent is also a miserable human being. Since this was done through a school I’m sure there are records of it.
This appeared consistent with a story of students at Texas Tech who were unable to bring Choi to their campus because they did not have a budget for the speakers fees. And follow up work confirmed the stories.
I already checked with a source involved in the deal with Choi, he confirmed that Dan was paid. He told me that his TX AE has a budget for speakers and expects to pay. They dealt only with the Agent. I was told that The Tech Kids never had a budget.
Nathan is concerned that this may be motivating some of Choi’s activism.
The nature of his behavior is what impacts and ups his price on the speaker circuit, whether motivated by such or not; some of the antics may not be good for DADT repeal. My assertion is that if one does not have pure motives while being an activist, hampered by publicity stunts that serve to raise one’s price, and get one from coach to first class, points to a serious conflict of interests, unless the boundaries are very clear and then not crossed. In this instance Dan’s silence has created doubt as to whether there are any boundaries at all.
Personally, I find nothing wrong with professional speakers being paid speaker fees. While most activists do so on their own dollar – often at great personal expense – professional speakers need to buy food and housing as much as the rest of us. Life is great when you get paid for doing what you love and for making the world a better place.
And if Dan Choi wants to engage in public actions which are designed to increase his marketability, I have no objection. If his goal is to raise his public profile so as to maximize his financial future, that is only smart. Plenty of celebrities have additional motivations attached to their good works.
But, if Nathan’s report is true, it does provide some explanation for Choi’s recent actions. And it does flavor my perspective on his character and my willingness to support his activism decisions without question.
Scott Lively on the Daily Show
July 29th, 2010
Jason Jones caught up with Holocaust revisionist Scott Lively on last night’s The Daily Show. Believe me, you so have to watch this:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
I loved watching Lively’s facial expressions as he understood how completely crazy he sounded at times. I wonder at what point did he realized that this was not your typical deferential documentary?
Scott Lively is co-author of The Pink Swastika, now in its fourth edition, in which he claims that Nazism and fascism were, at its core, a gay movement, and that in any country where LGBT equality becomes a reality, violent and murderous fascism would be the inevitable result. Last June, Lively warned that if “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” were repealed, the U.S. military would be taken over by modern-day Nazis. In March of 2009, Lively was one of three American anti-gay activists who put on a conference in Kampala, Uganda, which laid the groundwork for the introduction of the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill. He told that audience that murderous gay men were likely responsible for the 1994 Rwandan massacre.
Choi and GetEqual protest something again
July 29th, 2010
Lt. Choi and other GetEqual activist were
arrested for photographed protesting in the Capitol Rotunda. (SDGLN)
A group of GetEqual protesters have closed down the Capitol Rotunda, specifically targeting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the lack of progress on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
The didn’t meet with Pelosi. They didn’t get any mainstream media. They didn’t accomplish anything discernible.
But someone paid attention to them and took pictures. Choi even tweeted about himself.
Lt. Choi Confirms DADT Discharge
July 22nd, 2010
This comes from an email that was sent out this morning:
My Statement on DADT Discharge
This morning I received notification of my honorable discharge from the army under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” After 11 years since beginning my journey at West Point and after 17 months of serving openly as an infantry officer this is both an infuriating and painful announcement.
But my service continues. 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.
The true honor and dignity of service does not come from a piece of paper, a pension or paycheck, a rank or status; only an unflinching commitment to improve the lives of others can determine the nature of one’s service. From the first moment we put on our nation’s uniform and swore our solemn oath, we committed ourselves to fight for freedom and justice; to defend our constitution and put the needs of others before our own. This is not an oath that I intend to abandon. Doing so at such a time, or remaining silent when our family and community members are fired or punished for who they truly are would be an unequivocal moral dereliction that tarnishes the honor of the uniform and insults the meaning of America.
Lt Choi also spoke to Newsweek, describing the circuitous route in which he got the news. It turns out the certified letter was sent to his father, who is not on speaking terms with Dan. Lt Choi says that his first inclination right now is to go home to his family.
NY National Guard Confirms Choi’s Discharge
July 21st, 2010
Chris Giedner chased this down:
Lt. Col. Rich Goldenberg with the New York National Guard responded to an inquiry from Metro Weekly about the discharge, first reported in the Gay City News, by saying that a certified letter was sent to Choi detailing the honorable discharge and that ”Choi was informed on 29 June” via a phone message left by his unit commander. Other calls were made to him as well, he said.
Goldenberg acknowledged, ”I do not believe he returned any of their calls,” but added that ”[t]he New York National Guard made every attempt to make sure that Lt. Choi was fully informed of the action.”
Choi reportedly responded to the Gay City News report via Twitter: ”No, I have not seen any discharge papers. When/if they come, I’ll show and tell.”
Lt. Dan Choi Discharged
July 21st, 2010
That tidbit is buried deep in this Gay City News story:
Choi lost his battle with the Pentagon on June 29 when his discharge from the Army under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was finalized. While Choi’s National Guard unit informed him by registered mail and with phone messages, he has not disclosed the action. He did not respond to an email seeking comment.
That lack of an acknowledgement from Choi, let alone an announcement, seems strange.
Charges against Choi and Pietrangelo Dropped
July 14th, 2010
Breaking news from AmericaBlog’s Joe Sudbay indicate that prosecutors dropped the charges against Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. Jim Pietrangelo. According to Joe Sudbay, everyone was in the room and ready to go — prosecutor, witnesses, arresting officers — but the case was dropped. No further explanation is available.
Choi and Pietrangelo are eached charged with two counts of failure to obay a lawful order, stemming from their arrests while handcuffed to the White House fence on two separate occasions as part of protests against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
DADT Protesters Released, Trial Date Set
April 22nd, 2010
The six protesters against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” who handcuffed themselves to the White House fence yesterday were released from jail. All six were charged with the misdemeanor of refusing to obey a policy order. Army Lt. Dan Choi and veteran Capt. Jim Pietrangelo pleaded not guilty before D.C. Superior Court Judge Richard Ringell. He combined the latest cases with the earlier cases for Choi and Pietrangelo, and set a new trial date of July 14.
The other four — Navy Petty Officers Larry Whitt and Autumn Sandeen, Air Force Cadet Mara Boyd, and Marine Corps Corporal Evelyn Thomas — accepted a post-and-forfeit offer of a $100 fine in exchange for ending the case. Choi and Pietrangelo were also offered the same deal but declined.
All six protesters are under court order to stay away from the streets surrounding the White House. For the four who accepted the post-and-forfeit offer, the order is in effect only until they pay the fine, which is due within a month. For Choi and Pietrangelo, it appears that the court order will remain in effect until their trial date. The attorney for Choi and Pietrangelo argued that the order violates their First Amendment Rights, but the court ruled against their objections.
In related news, a spokesman for the US Parks Police admitted that the service “screwed up” when they turned away reporters during the protest. The spokesman called the incident “embarrassing” and blamed it on a ”rookie amateur error.” He denied that the Secret Service or the White House had anything to do with the push to move reporters out of view of the protest.
BREAKING: Six Vets Chain Themselves to White House Fence
April 20th, 2010
In a repeat of last month’s protest against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:, six veterans have chained themselves to the White House fence.
In a protest that is currently ongoing according to The Advocate’s Kerry Eleveld’s Twitter feed, Lt. Daniel Choi and five others have handcuffed themselves to the White House fence. The protesters consist of three men and three women, including Lt. Choi, who reportedly is calling on the President to include the repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the military in the Defense Authorization Bill.
Joe Sudbury identifies another protester as Autumn Sandeen, a transgender blogger with Pam’s House Blend who is a retired twenty-year navy veteran. Another protester has been identified as Capt. Jim Pietrangelo, who was discharged under DADT in 2004. Pietrangelo also handcuffed himself to the White House fence last month alongside Choi.
The protest was organized by GetEQUAL, which also organized a protest at a fundraiser for Sen. Barbara Boxer last night. The protest target was President Barack Obama, whose address was interrupted by hecklers demanding action on DADT’s repeal.
Update: GetEqual identifies the six as Capt. Jim Pietrangelo II, Petty Officer Larry Whitt, Petty Officer Autumn Sandeen, Cadet Mara Boyd, and Airman Victor Price.
Update 2: All six protesters have now been place under arrest.
Lt. Choi: “I Am Somebody and I Deserve Full Equality”
March 25th, 2010
In case you missed him on Rachel Maddow’s show:
On Lt. Daniel Choi’s decision to chain himself to the White House fence last week:
When the President responds to activists and says ‘I will repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ this year, I will work with Congress and I need your help; keep pressuring leaders like me,” as an Army officer I hear a directive, an order, a command. And so I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure that he knows the ball is still in his court and we need to see action.
We Don’t Need Another Celebrity
March 23rd, 2010
Lt. Daniel Choi, who was arrested last weekend along with former Army captain Jim Pietrangelo after handcuffing themselves to the White House fence in protest over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” appeared in a Newsweek interview today. He articulated a couple of key opinions that many of us share about the state of LGBT advocacy organizations today:
Within the gay community so many leaders want acceptance from polite society. I think there’s been a betrayal of what is down inside of us in order to achieve what looks popular, what look enviable. The movement seems to be centered around how to become an elite. There is a deep schism [in the gay-rights movement], everyone knows this. But this shouldn’t be about which group has better branding. There is a tremor right now in every gay and transgender youth that these groups are not grasping. I would say to them—you do not represent us if all you are looking for is a ladder in to elite society.
…They say freedom is not free, but it doesn’t have to cost anything either. Jesus up on the cross did not have a party with all his major donors to raise money for his cause, his cross was free. Ghandi did not need three-course dinners and a cocktail party to get his message out. These are people who sacrificed their lives. For them it was hemlock, a cross, the bullet that shot Harvey Milk … it was not the size of their distribution list, but their message that endured.
He also had this pointed dig at the Human Right’s Campaign going with a frivolous celebrity spokesperson again to lobby for DADT’s repeal:
When I heard Kathy Griffin was going to be a spokeswoman for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I wondered about that. I have great respect for her as an advocate. But if [the Human Rights Campaign] thinks that having a rally at Freedom Plaza with a comedienne is the right approach, I have to wonder. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is not a joking matter to me. To be at Freedom Plaza and not at the White House or Congress? Who are they trying to influence? I felt like they were just trying to speak to themselves. If that’s the best the lobbying groups and HRC can do, then I don’t know how these powerful groups are supposed to represent our community. Kathy Griffin and [HRC president] Joe Solmonese said they would march with me to the White House but didn’t. I feel so betrayed by them.
You know, I have to agree. This strange instinct the HRC has to turn to celebrities to pretend they are serious observers and advocates for the LGBT community is truly bizarre. Remember Melissa Etheridge at the 2007 presidential debate — err, forum — sponsored by the HRC? She also provided cover for Saddleback Rick Warren when he endured criticism for comparing married gay couples to child molestation and apparently forgave him on our behalf.
We don’t need any more celebrities. We need heros. The next time I see a celebrity being touted as an advocate for a serious issue, I’m throwing my shoe at the TV.
“Not Guilty, Not Ashamed, and Not Finished”
March 19th, 2010
That’s the plea that Lt. Daniel Choi entered at his arraignment in DC Superior Court this afternoon, according to tweets from a reporter at Metro Weekly. Choi and Capt. Jim Pietrangelo were arrested yesterday and charged with “failure to obey a lawful order” after chaining themselves to the White House fence in protest over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Pietrangelo also pleaded not guilty. Both were reportedly brought into the court room in handcuffs and chains. Trial is set for April 26.
Lt. Daniel Choi Arrested In DADT Protest At White House
March 18th, 2010
Iraq war veteran Lt. Daniel Choi, whose discharge from the US Army under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” handcuffed himself to the White House fence this afternoon along with Capt. Jim Pietrangelo, who was discharged in 2004. Here is CNN’s coverage of that protest:
Choi and Pietrangelo had earlier attended a rally at Freedom Plaza organized by the Human Rights Campaign which featured comedienne Kathy Griffin. Griffin invited Choi, who had not been invited to speak, up to the stage to say a few words. Choi took the opportunity to invite participants at the rally to march with him and Pietrangelo to the White House.
Once they reached the White House shortly before 1:00 pm, Choi and Pietrangelo handcuffed themselves to the fence. They were quickly met by police and Secret Service. After a standoff of about an hour, police cut they two from the fence and placed them under arrest. A third advocate, Robin McGehee of GetEQUAL was also arrested.
Latest word is that Choi and Pietrangelo will be held in DC jail overnight and appear tomorrow in DC Superior Court. Observers say that it is highly unusual for a person to be arrested with “failure to obey a lawful order” and be held overnight. Typically such an individual makes bail and is released the same day. Why the delay?
In the best tradition of protests, that is where this story would end for the day, as unsatisfying an ending as it is right now. But wouldn’t you know it, whenever it comes to the gays, it seems there always has to be some squabbling going on somewhere. This one is playing out as an anti-HRC/pro-HRC tussle. Blogger John Avarosis describes the events at the HRC’s rally this way:
I was there, chronicled Dan from this morning’s preparation to his unexpected speech at the HRC rally (Joe Solmonese told him he couldn’t speak, Dan got Kathy Griffin to invite him on stage), to his march to the White House fence where he and Capt. James Pietrangelo (who was kicked out in 2004 for being gay) handcuffed themselves to the White House gate with hundreds of supporters chanting. It was an amazing scene. Griffin told Choi she’d march with him the White House, then she refused to go when he found her after rally. Solmonese reportedly gave Choi the thumbs up when Choi asked him if he’d march to the White House – Solmonese too was nowhere to be scene, and refused to go when Choi approached him after the HRC rally.
The HRC responded:
There’s been some confusion about Lt. Dan Choi’s role in the rally. As Joe Solmonese was walking to the stage, Lt. Choi asked Joe if he could have a speaking role. Joe explained that it wasn’t his sole decision to make on the spot given that there was already an established program that included Kathy Griffin, other organization and veterans. After Choi then spoke with Kathy Griffin, she agreed to bring him up on stage and speak to the crowd during her remarks.
Lt. Choi in his speech called on the crowd to march on the White House. Joe Solmonese along with Eric Alva and others felt it was important to stay and engage those at the rally in ways they can continue building the pressure needed for repeal. This does nothing to diminish the actions taken by Lt. Choi and others. This is the nature of social change and everyone has a role to play.
As for Kathy Griffin, we have this tweet:
It was my honor 2 share th podium w Lt Dan Choi today. I understand he’s been arrested in front of the White House. I dig that dude! Balls!
Thank You, Elaine Donnelly
October 7th, 2009
CNN’s Anderson Cooper hosted a debate between Dan Choi, West Point graduate and Iraq vet and an Arabic language specialist, and Elaine Donnelly, a woman who has never served a day in her life yet who argues on behalf of her “Center for Military Readiness” against gay people (and women in general) serving in the military.
Elaine’s performance was consistent with previous efforts at warning of the great scary, ooky, spooky, gay folks being in “forced intimacy” with good ol’ homophobes. Which makes me say, “Please God, please. All I want for Christmas is for Elaine Donnelly to stay the voice and face of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”