Have we forgotten about Dan Choi?

Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. Jim Pietrangelo at the White House.
(photo by John Aravosis)

A good question from Jillian Weiss:

Well, we won on the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal battle, and last week was the one-year anniversary. Hurrah! Of course, it was touch and go, and despite the efforts of many valiant soldiers, lawyers and servicemember organizations, the President wasn’t behind it until after the GetEqual protests at the White House gates, with the now-iconic photograph of servicemembers chained to the White House fence.

Dan Choi was arrested at the White House fence at one of the protests. They said he was blocking the sidewalk, even though he was standing on the fence ledge, not the sidewalk. And then, as we know, President Obama came to the rescue and got behind DADT repeal in a big way, as did many others within and without the Administration, and it happened. But what happened to Dan Choi?

He seems to have been abandoned by our community and our media after the battle was won.

I haven’t seen anything in the LGBT media about his continuing fight. Federal prosecutors are demanding the maximum six months in jail and the government took away all his benefits and are even asking for thousands of dollars from Lt. Choi, bill collectors hounding him. These are the same prosecutors who insisted on disrespecting Lt. Choi, calling him “Mister Choi” in open court, refusing to use his military rank, until the Judge ordered them to do so. In fact, the Judge specifically found that there was sufficient evidence to permit use of a “vindictive prosecution” defense in this case.

Where is the love, people? Do you know what is happening to Lt. Choi?

Crazy Dan Choi.

Remember when Dan Choi repeatedly handcuffed himself to the White House fence, along with Capt. Jim Pietrangelo, and then along with a number of the GetEqual folks, to protest presidential inaction on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?

Crazy Dan Choi.

And when Dan went to Russia to help celebrate gay Pride in spite of Moscow’s ban on the event, and Dan ended up being roughed up by Russian undercover cops and thrown in jail?

Crazy Dan Choi.

You have to be a little crazy to want change so badly that you’re willing to sacrifice yourself, your career, to make a difference.

I saw Dan Choi the day he got the news that the military had officially discharged him under DADT.  We were at the Netroots Nation conference in Vegas, and Dan was visibly shell-shocked.  He tried to hide it, as a good soldier will, but he couldn’t.  He had given up his career for our rights, and it clearly had hit him hard.

Some folks don’t like Dan.  I don’t mean the White House folks, though surely they’re no big fans.  Nor the folks at the gay groups who Dan chided mercilessly for enabling the worst of Democratic inaction on our rights.  I mean Joe and Jane LGBT.  Some think Dan’s an opportunist.  In it for the fame.   For the attention.

There are easier, safer ways to get attention than risk being killed by Russian “justice.”  But you can’t make serious change if you’re worried about making friends, and people calling you crazy.

Self-supported gay activism isn’t exactly a growth industry.  I’ve done a good deal of gay advocacy in my time, starting in 1993 working on gay rights surreptitiously out of Senator Kennedy’s office for a shadow 40 hour week after I finished my other 40 hour a week job.  No one paid me to do it.  I did it because I wanted to, because I felt I had to.  Something inside me told me that I could make a difference, that I had to.  That’s all I needed to know.

Progressive advocacy isn’t exactly lucrative.  I’m living on my savings, which are now almost gone, because blogging (running a small media empire, really) stopped being financially sustainable after the economy collapsed.  I remember when I worked for Marian Wright Edelman at the Children’s Defense Fund, we were always having some budget crisis or another, and Marian’s response was always, much to the chagrin of our budget people, “God will provide.”  And I’ve always had a bit of a “God will provide” feeling about the activism I do, and I think it’s the same feeling any true activist feels.  You just sort of hope things will work out, and up until now they always have.  Now I’m less certain.

Big things get done because people like Crazy Dan Choi, who have the PR savvy to make a ton of money doing safer, easier things, decide that risking their livelihood, and in many cases, their lives, is worth it.  They do the crazy so you don’t have to.  And you, and I – all of us – reap the benefits.

You’ve gotta be a little crazy to be a good activist.  (Just as I think you have to be a little crazy to be a good poet, artist, or creative person more generally.)  You have to be willing to put your neck out, risk offending people, and forgo the income stream that might have come had you chosen a safer path.  You have to be willing to skip the easy way out.

Dan Choi is still being prosecuted by the Obama administration for handcuffing himself to the White House fence (repeatedly).  We owe it to him not to forget his plight, and to continue honoring, and fostering, the crazy among us.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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