Whatever Happened to Dan Choi?

Jim Burroway

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.


December 2nd, 2013

Sad story. I really hope he gets the mental health help he needs.


December 2nd, 2013

He came across as very egoistic and even unstable even before his big breakdown became publicly known. But if you dared say anything against him on the gay blogosphere, almost everyone attacked you.

Sir Andrew

December 2nd, 2013

I agree, Steve. It’s always bothered me that our spokespeople are all to often self-appointed, with very few of them having anything worthwhile to say, yet saying it anyway. And once they’ve got the spotlight they refuse to relinquish it. It is, perhaps, the worst part of our rights strategy.

To the story: But other than having been destroyed by his own celebrity, what is Dan Choi DOING? Does he work? Is he spending a trust fund? How does he pay for a DC apartment? And the pot? And the Hungry Hungry Hippos game? None of those are cheap. That’s what I hoped to glean from this posting. Jim? Anything else you can tell us.


December 2nd, 2013

I selected my Box Turtle name years ago, when I was concerned that Dan Choi was “going off the rails.” I always hoped he would get through it and find himself once again.

Sadly this article confirms he hasn’t. :-)

“He had fallen in love with his own martyrdom. He had conflated activism with celebrity.” What a poetic, and sadly true statement.

Dan, please clean yourself up and find your way again.

ABilly Jones-Hennin

December 2nd, 2013

Dan’s not the only activist who has been caught up in these dynamics presented here. I would be an interesting artile of “Where Are They Now” to see who are still at it, who are in poverty, who have been forgotten, . . .


December 2nd, 2013

I found this article absolutely fascinating… and relatable. This doesn’t just happen to gay activists…it happens on the other “side(s)” of the culture war as well.

I just finished reading it so I am still mulling it over but the word “solipsism” is one that I am glad the author used in the article. I have only used that word a few times but when I have it is within this same type of context (hard core activism, not just gay activism.)

Great read. Thanks for the heads up Jim.

Michael Bedwell

December 2nd, 2013

“great profile”???? Here’s what I sent Arana which I feel even more strongly having read the kneejerk comments above. For the record, I was one of those arrested with Dan at the White House in November 2010, still consider him a dear friend—both of which were among the reasons Arana asked to interview me about Dan, too; cancelled the apointment, then never bothered to contact me again.

>>>Mr. Arana,

RE: “The Passion of Dan Choi.” An ironic title given what came after it. You obviously have your seasons confused. Yes, you recounted the story of Dan’s birth as an activist, but the majority of your article was a crucifixion; you should have held it for Spring. Of course, Dan isn’t Jesus, but even mortal men deserve more than your publicly driving the same kind of nails into him that others already have with neither your intelligence nor credentials not trust in place in you but merely the green hammer of petty jealousy that he got publicity they craved for themselves or — the most unforgiveable sin of all — DARED criticize their Lord & Savior Obama Christ.

Did you imagine some “higher good” by writing about Dan in a manner that would largely fit perfectly in the calumnious columns of the most sensationalistic, most homophobic “writer” at the “National Enquirer”? As Joseph Nye Welch said to Joe McCarthy: “Until this moment … I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness … Have you left no sense of decency?”

And, no, sir, don’t let your closing line of flaccid praise let you imagine that it remotely balances the force of all the needless paragraphs of pain that came before; publicly pouring truckloads of salt into the deep psychological wounds of someone still trying to recover from multiple sources and kinds of PTSD. Such would be unforgiveable from anyone, and, Goddess knows, over 40 years of activism, I’ve learned that no one can betray a gay person better than a faggot. But coming from someone like you with his own history of severe mental and emotional anguish, a psychiatric ward veteran himself, your CHOOSING to throw verbal acid in Dan’s face is unforgiveable.

For all the hallowed halls you now tread as a “respected” out “journalist,” a plague on your house, sir. Dan “solipsistic”? You walk in Shame you can’t even see. Congratulations: you’re the lavender Lee Harvey Oswald of character assassins.

Michael Bedwell<<<

Timothy Kincaid

December 2nd, 2013

Sir Andrew, according to the article Dan earns speakers fees.

And Hungry Hungry Hippos is available at Toys R Us for $19.99


December 2nd, 2013

And there is Michael Bedwell with his usual insane ranting again.

Michael Bedwell

December 2nd, 2013

We see the Obambots have taken a moment away from their holiday shopping to slither in…….

Timothy Kincaid

December 2nd, 2013

this is not the place for personal attacks

Priya Lynn

December 2nd, 2013

Michael, your disgusting personal attacks drown out any real message you might have conveyed.


December 3rd, 2013

I don’t see an issue with him getting high. The other things mentioned in the article seem likely due to stress.

What has happened to him is something that could potentially happen to anyone. Once you have won your cause what do you become?


December 3rd, 2013

It’s more than just winning his battle, the article makes clear he had a lot of personal baggage outside of the gay rights struggle. The same things that drove him to work for the movement have also undermined him.

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