Editors' Note: Guest blogger Jonathon Edwards is a pastor in the United Church of Christ and has been active on a local level in the glbt movement since his youth. He co-founded the first GLBT student organization at the University of Missouri - St. Louis, organized a clandestine GLBT pride celebration on board a US Naval vessel while he was on active duty, and led the first USA Cycling licensed gay bicycle racing team in the history of the Gay Games.
As many of you already know, Lt. Dan Choi, one of the most active and important voices in the move to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, was hospitalized this week at a Veterans' Administration hospital because of a "mental breakdown".
This is my letter to our wounded brother.
In 1989, after four months of pondering ways to punish me for coming out of the closet beyond a "simple" discharge, I was unceremoniously kicked to the curb by the US Navy. I will never forget the name of the man who, representing the United States of America, failed me in military bearing because he thought coming out of the closest was conduct unbecoming a petty officer. Being honest, conduct unbecoming.
Although I wasn't a careerist (I planned to serve my 6 and go back to college with my GI Bill money), getting discharged was surprisingly painful. It wasn't that I was particularly saddened to be out of the Navy. It was that the government of the United States told me in loud, clear terms that they thought I was worthless. Despite scoring high enough on the ASVAB to be recruited into the Naval Nuclear Power Program, despite 2 years of training, despite only getting nine months of actual shipboard service out of me, the United States of America said "doesn't matter, we don't want you, you're worthless" when they handed me that DD214. To add insult to injury, re-enlistment eligibility code F4, which meant don't even bother trying. And because my Commanding Officer failed me in military bearing, no honorable discharge which meant no GI Bill money, even though I had paid into it.
This on top of rejection by my family and the church...I am amazed that I survived. And in fact, in some ways, I didn't. For the next decade I struggled emotionally. I dived into addiction. If I hadn't had the good fortune to be immersed in first the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus and then the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles - communities of gay men that helped me to know for the first time in my life that gay was not only OK but was, in fact, fantastic and beautiful - I probably wouldn't have survived.
And, of course, years of therapy. I owe all those men so much I won't be able to repay them in this life time.
And that's why I work. I do it in small ways, never making nearly the impact that you have. I work quietly for marriage equality from the vantage point of pastoring a small United Church of Christ congregation. I work quietly to help build churches that stop hating and start loving and don't do to others what was done to me. But my debt to those men drives me. I can never stop.
And that leads me to overwork sometimes. To overindulge. To neglect myself.
What I have to remember is that I, too, was a member of those choruses and that I, too, am a man to whom others owe a debt of gratitude for helping them know that being gay is fantastic and beautiful. Just by being out, life gets better for other gay people. And the work we do, however big or small, makes a difference.
You are one of the people you are working to defend, Dan, and you deserve our gratitude for just being who you are, our brother. A loyal member of our tribe. Someone fantastic and beautiful. Someone who deserves a rest and for whom the rest of us must now work as tirelessly as you have - both in the defense of our country and our communities and you.
As someone who knows what it feels like, deep in my bones, to go through what you've gone through, I wanted to send you my heartfelt well-wishes and prayers. Let the rest of us bear your sword for a while, brother, and when you're ready for whatever comes next in your work, we'll be there to have your back.
In deep gratitude, your brother