Being courageous enough to share the truth was the main theme of Lt. Dan Choi’s address to Northern Kentucky University on Oct. 4.
Choi was an Army reservist who fought in the Iraqi conflict before he was honorably discharged under the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in 2009.
For Choi, making the decision to announce your sexual identity is not so much to benefit you as it is to benefit others. He said it is about letting those people who feel alone and are at risk to know that there are others who have opened up to their friends and families and made it through.
Choi compared the plight of people who are gay in the United States to that of the Shia Muslims he worked with in Iraq. He referred to how a few of them still had the courage to hold political rallies announcing their presence and identities despite being called dogs and being condemned to hell by the majority religion in Iraq.
Still, most live their lives quietly and don’t want to take the risk of letting others know their religious beliefs.
“Better that you live, better that you have a job, better that you continue climbing the ladder and have friends than to upset the balance and claim your identity,” Choi said about the philosophy of many Shia Muslims in Iraq.
He paralleled that attitude to that of many people who are gay in the United States today. For similar reasons, he said many still continue to hold back on sharing that part of who they are for fear of the consequences.
“People will tell you not to go and ruffle feathers, but there is no time like the present,” Choi said.
For Choi, the greatest battle and the one he feared the most was not with the military, but rather with his own family. His father is a Southern Baptist pastor and his parents are Korean immigrants who come from a culture where such conduct is unacceptable.
“The lesson that I learned from coming out to my parents…it was awkward,” Choi said. But only six months later, his conservative father shared with him that he accepted him for who he was.
When he made the decision to come out to his family, Choi said that had it just been for his benefit, then he would not have done it. Instead, he has been able to inspire hope in others to discover that they are valued, and that they are “somebody.”
Choi led the crowd in a chant emphasizing self-worth and shouting over and over that “I am somebody.”
The military policy itself got substantial scrutiny during the speech and student question and answer session.
The worst thing about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” according to Choi, is the idea that he could have returned to the battlefield not being able to kiss the person he loved on the tarmac as he left for war with the fear that if he died or was injured in battle, no one would go to tell his “number-one supporter.”
Choi said he has heard all the arguments as to why the policy should be in place. One student asked him whether he thought the policy protected people who are gay from bias-motivated crime.
“It’s a leadership issue,” Choi said, adding that there are openly gay people in the military now and that dangers are not any more pressing in the military as they are in everyday life. However, the military does present a stronger set of expectations and a code which the armed forces must follow. Choi said to alleviate the problem, President Barack Obama should say that such hatred must end now.
The event was sponsored by the Activities Programming Board with support from Common Ground and Northern Kentucky Equality Now.
Editorial Note: Check out the video story for this article at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DgMGMj7lB0&rel=0
Story by Jesse Call