Just like the entertainment world, the LGBT community has its own breakout stars -- a number of them were part of the National Equality March and the current renewed push for grassroots level activism the brings a new generation of activists to the table. One of those breakouts has been Lt. Dan Choi.
Everyone has their own priority list for the LGBT "agenda" -- my personal priority list has long been headed by repeal of the odious "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. So I was glad that Choi gave me an hour-and-a-half to talk with him about his own journey from being a soldier to being an activist, and his continued dream to have the right to be both. He's what you want in a community activist: earnest, focused and committed to changing and unjust policy. He's also, I think by dint of his being new on the activist scene, refreshingly open and honest about his life, his experiences and his beliefs.
Still, I was a little surprised to see that some blogs jumped on the implications in Choi's answer to my question about reactions to his being an "activist":
MW: Have you gotten any shit from friends in the Army or anyone else about being known as an "activist"?
CHOI: Yeah. [Laughs.] Actually, I've gotten it from other activists. I know a lot about initiations and traditions that people have to sort of pay your dues -- in the military, there are procedures and protocols. You gain rank. Here, you don't have that as much, but there are different traditional ways, that we have paid dues within the community, at least from what I'm understanding, and so a lot of people have pointed out that. I wouldn't go to the point of saying that I don't deserve to be in this role, but they say, "You sort of came out of nowhere."
It shouldn't really surprise me, though. On Wednesday night, I went to the Rainbow History Project reception honoring this years field of the organization's Community Pioneers (my co-publisher at Metro Weekly, Randy Shulman, was among the stellar collection of honorees). It was a lovely night filled with lots of old friends and acquaintances from my activist days.
And I realized that looking around I saw many, many familiar faces, going all the way back to my initial days as an activist myself, during the 1993 days when "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was written into law. What was missing were newer faces. That's in some ways natural -- honoring people for lifetimes of achievement tends to bring out a crowd of people who have spent much of their own lives working towards those same goals.
It's difficult at times to reach across the gap between activist generations, and as some recent commentary has shown, it's far easier to set up generational divides as a placeholder for blame. So it's not only important for younger activists to learn a little more about who's come before them, it's probably even more important for those of us on the other end of the spectrum to make welcome new faces and new energy. A movement needs to be dynamic to move forward.
I think Choi is an obvious example of that, someone who through force of personality and character has managed to break through into the minds of Americans, both LGBT and straight. He's making a difference, something we should all appreciate whether we're old timers or the new wave.