Jeff Sheng

Exclusive Pics: Lt. Dan Choi back in service?

Filed By Jeff Sheng | February 09, 2010 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: Don't Ask Don't Tell, Jeff Sheng, Lt. Dan Choi, NGLTF Creating Change, Sue Fulton

This past weekend at the NGLTF Creating Change conference, there was a notable absence that many have already tweeted and remarked about. Lt. Dan Choi was supposed to lead a Knights Out sponsored workshop on Friday morning about ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," but wasn't able to make it. He was training with his National Guard unit.


We received these photographs from Lt. Choi to publish and share with our readers from his training this past weekend, and he does express his deep apologies to the conference participants at Creating Change that he was not able to attend.

Lt. Choi's Session

The wonderful Sue Fulton, another Knights Out leader, took charge and I will say that she handled Lt. Choi's absence with incredible grace and skill, especially the disappointment by many of the delegates who were hoping to see and meet Lt. Choi. I was very relieved though that when the announcement was made that he was not going to be in attendance, there was not a sudden exodus to the exits by the packed room.

Fulton did an incredible job of presenting the issue, while also leading a very valuable discussion on DADT, with other notable voices in the room that included scholar/author Nathaniel Frank and Knights Out co-founder, Becky Kanis.

The workshop attendees were given the explanation that the reason for Lt. Choi's absence was that he was called back for duty, and he had to attend training with his unit which happened to conflict with Creating Change. This of course led to a lot of confusion for the delegates about what was going on, including myself, who had always thought that Lt. Choi was discharged and no longer able to serve.


Lt. Choi's Discharge

To clear everything up for our readers, I spoke to Lt. Choi at length earlier about what exactly the situation is. Apparently, Lt. Choi's commander has always been in full support of him, and even after Lt. Choi came out on The Rachel Maddow Show, his commander did not press for his discharge. The military did eventually serve Lt. Choi a discharge notification - essentially firing him from his job, but he was allowed to fight this at trial, and as it currently stands, the discharge has not been finalized. Given the current state of how DADT is in such flux, and also, in my opinion, the prominence and celebrity of Lt. Choi, his discharge might never be fully enforced.

There was a part of me that was very heartened by this news, and that we definitely can take this as a sign of more progress on the repeal of DADT.
image-2.jpgHowever, there was also a part of me that hopes Lt. Choi will still be a powerful voice, even as he rejoins his unit, especially as Congress debates on how this repeal will take shape. For me, I will only accept as a victory a complete repeal of the policy, where service members can openly serve without any form of retribution or discrimination. No segregation of units, no separate rules (if they outlaw "homosexual conduct" they better also outlaw "heterosexual conduct"), and finally, the government enacts and enforces a non-discrimination policy that makes discrimination in hiring and firing based on one's sexual orientation and gender expression forbidden.

To achieve this we need voices. Powerful ones. Lt. Choi is no doubt an incredibly persuasive voice. He is also a person of color, and in a world where Asian American men are rarely given any voice in any debate, he shines at his rockstar ability to persuade, from the airwaves or Rachel Maddow to the offices of Senator Gillibrand.

I was heartened though to hear Lt. Choi's response, when I asked him what he thinks his new voice might be as the repeal of DADT takes shape. He spoke about perhaps helping the military implement a future non-discrimination policy, and advising in issues involving sensitivity trainings on LGBT issues. But the comment that struck me the most was when he said, "Actions speak louder than words." It made sense all of a sudden, that the sheer act of him rejoining his unit and serving with everyone else, could be his most powerful voice in the debate so far. That seeing an openly gay service member train and fight with his unit, is something that truly does speak louder than words.

I had an absolute blast at the conference. I have attended every year since 2005, and the highlight for me every time is the joy I have reconnecting with long time activist friends and then always also meeting new ones. This conference was especially meaningful since it was the first one for me as a Bilerico contributor, so I was able to finally meet in person a lot of the team that I read so much from.


(The issue of DADT, is of course very important for me as I have spent the last year working on a photography project of closeted military service members, and my first photography book from this series was just released and mentioned in the Los Angeles Times.)

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Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | February 9, 2010 10:40 AM

Good on him and as this long awaited day approaches three cheers to all Gay and Lesbian service members. Federal recognition of equal rights for us in any theater will cross over much more than a state conferred right such as marriage equivalency.

This, at last, is something we can put our teeth into. It cannot be backed away from and compared to the other things we waste resources failing to accomplish is an inexpensive breath of fresh air. I spent today with a Gay vet who is a retired Navy commander. He was in the medical corps and his job was to save lives of civilians and soldiers alike. Those who serve always do so honorably regardless of field.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | February 9, 2010 9:32 PM

Mea culpa, I should have also added our trans gender service members. My apologies to both Monicas!

I'm happy for Dan... however, I worry that this is an attempt to silence the loudest voice on this issue. Dan has become a symbol of this movement, and now he's been mysteriously pulled out of the limelight. He was scheduled to be at Creating Change, next week he was scheduled to be here at U of I, and we were in discussions with him to have him on Lundon Calling soon. Now all of that exposure is gone as he's canceled all of those. In addition, he won't be on Maddow, he won't be on AC360, he won't be on Situation Room, he won't be getting interviewed by Time, NPR and all of the mainstream media.

Is Dan being silenced? Will EVERY out gay soldier be called back in? After all, few have been as vocal as Dan Choi. If he is not going to disrupt his unit, then no soldier will. I hope we see the context here soon, I'm worried that Dan is being used to quiet the storm.

James McGuire | February 9, 2010 12:58 PM

It is funny that the military is there to protect our constitution, yet if you read the contitution, DADT forces our GLTB soldiers to chose whether they want to have the 2nd amendment (the right to bear arms to protect the state) or the other rights (the right to free association, the right to separation of church and state --imagine a soldier free to go to a gay church -- the right of free press -- imagine a soldier free to subscribe to the Advocate.

Of course with Judge Catholic as the leader of the Supreme Court of the US ... gay soldiers will always be second class citizens -- and other gay Americans --- well, just count them out entirely.

Some factual clarifications:

"Trial" is the wrong word. Because he chose to contest his discharge, rather than simply going quietly as most regretfully but understandably choose to do, Dan was given an administrative hearing. [He would have only been put on trial, in this regard, if he were being charged with a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice of which "being gay" is not.]

After the administrative hearing recommends discharge, the servicemember can appeal. While that appeal is in process, they remain in the military, though their assignments often change.
Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach is awaiting the results of his appeal to the Secretary of the Air Force, and remains on active duty until then.

Unlike when Fehrenbach was outed, Dan was NOT "active duty" when he outed himself. He had moved from active duty with the Army to the New York Army National Guard. National Guards are "reserve" military, who are only activATED at various times by their governor or the President. The majority of the time, Guard members are allowed to hold down other jobs, do whatever they want with their time, as Dan has since June 2008. There are National Guard units who have been "activated" serving "full time" in war zones, but obviously Dan's is not one of them.

The training he was on last week was TEMPORARY, the kind periodically required of all National Guard members to keep their skills intact.

Thus, unless he specifically told Phil otherwise, his reasons for having to cancel or decline any events after this week [at least until his next periodic training] are NOT the result of the military trying to silence him.

Did he explicitly SAY he wouldn't again "be on Maddow, he won't be on AC360, he won't be on Situation Room, he won't be getting interviewed by Time, NPR and all of the mainstream media"?

As for the support of his Commander in relation to DADT repeal, it's the kind of thing that has certainly contributed to the process generally, but he's at the wrong end of the proverbial stick to be any indication of what will be decided at the other end.

Finally, it is not just repeal that we should be demanding, but a freeze on discharges UNTIL repeal. Until then, talk is just talk, as the hundreds who were discharged last year prove.

Thank you.

Wow!! Great article.

Does the image of queer people holding large guns fighting unjust wars for the United States not disturb anyone at all?!

FurryCatHerder | February 10, 2010 2:29 PM


A member of the Armed Services is not there to question policy, make policy, protest policy, etc. They are there to execute the lawful orders of their Commanding Officer(s).

it's the job of civilians to question policies, get lawmakers to make policies, and protest policies that are perceived to be unjust.

If Lt. Choi refused to pick up that big gun and go shoot people he was lawfully ordered to go shoot, I'd fully support his discharge after an appropriate Courts Martial.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | February 11, 2010 9:16 AM

Those who serve always do so honorably. I agree with you about the lack of necessity for the Iraq war. Americans were sold a "weapons of mass destruction" *big lie* by Goerbels, er, Bush, Rove, Cheny and their minions, but the soldiers remain blameless of that. Your very ability to have free speech is still protected by the military we have.

We broke a country, now we have to try and put the pieces back together again. I hope, for the sake of what Iran might get up to, we are successful.

Yes, which is why my politics are moving farther and farther away from issues of identity and towards nonviolence in general.

Phil, I have to agree with you about the silencing. Except he can keep in touch with us, just as all soldiers can. At least he is not G2 where he would really be silenced about his activities.

He looks very happy... and we should be happy for him, as this was his chosen vocation he was being kept away from.

Go DAN... send us updates from the 'field' please.

Thanks for clarification Michael. Having him both on and off duty is a bit confusing... But whatever! Preferably not Afghanistan I will say.

If the media reports on him while he serves, showing pictures of him serving and reporting on his service, he will continue to be a voice for us all as he shows Americans that he is one in the same, a fellow citizen and an American soldier fighting for the freedom of this country. I don't know how you could attack that image without hurting your cause.

I don't approve of the Iraq or the Afghanistan wars, but that is a different issue from making invisible LGBT soldiers visible to the average American. If we are going to be in this mess, our fellow LGBT citizens should be able to serve to defend their country if they choose, as themselves and equal to their fellow citizens.

I really look up to this guy. He is brave in more ways that one.

Note again; Dan is NOT back on "active duty" but was just at periodic required [since his discharge is not yet final] National Guard training from which he was to return to his regular life today.

But, even temporary, his service, as that of Victor Fehrenbach who is still on FULL TIME active duty, disproves the Big Lies.

As Dan captioned one of the pictures he sent me:

"Yes, Tony Perkins, there are openly gay people in no-privacy bunks!"

Ed Note: I added the sentence "He was training with his National Guard unit." to the end of the first paragraph for those who aren't actually reading the post. Jeff makes clear that Lt. Choi's discharge hasn't been finalized and attempts to address the erroneous (and common) assumption that Lt. Choi had already been discharged.)

I applaud the progress made and I wish Lt. Choi all the best in his tour of duty. Please stay alert and come home safe.

Victory is not often dramatic but more likely incremental. The legislation may be changing but ultimately it is the hearts and minds of the people that matters most.

The integration of openly gay members will take time and a lot of work. The pioneers will always bear the brunt of the work.

Thank you for the updates, to let us stay tuned to the continuing journey of all the Knights.

Why has someone photoshopped image 3 to make his M-16 HUGE!!?? The US military has large guns, yes, but they do not have M-16s that have been remade for giants. Drop the picture, it makes the otherwise excellent article appear less authentic.

Hey John, I am pretty sure that the picture has not been photoshopped as they were sent directly to me by his iphone, and the original images that I received did not have, to my knowledge, traces of evident photoshopping. Perhaps the guns were props for something? He did mean for the pictures to be funny though, as if you are familiar with his personality, he can be quite a jokester at times.

@ Lance: please do not reinforce the MYTH that "the integration of openly gay members will take time and a lot of work." There is absolutely nothing but "sky may fall" Pentagon/Antigay Industry propaganda behind such claims; and years of evidence to the contrary.

Dan's continued out presence in his National Guard unit, even if it is only for periodic trainings lasting only a few days like this one, as well as that of out Victor Fehrebach in the Air Force for the last several months [nearly a year and a half if one includes all the time since discharge proceedings against him began], are just the most current examples proving it false.

Like them, Navy Top Gun Tracy Thorne-Begland continued on active duty after outing himself in 1992 once a judge ordered him back in, until his discharge under DADT. Grethe Cammermeyer in the Army National Guard, Keith Meinhold in the Navy, and Justin Elzie in the Marinesl...all continued to serve openly for a number of years with the help of courts. Zoe Dunning continued to be a part of the Navy Reserves for FOURTEEN years after outing herself in 1993.

And those are just the "headline" cases, the ones we know about. In 2008, SLDN documented 500 cases of gays serving while out to their peers, with an untold number more not having contacted them.

This is not to say there aren't now or won't be ANY cases of negative reactions post repeal, but, first, the vast majority of gays presently serving in silence will NOT suddenly come out evena after repeal. And, if the Pentagon does it right...and there's no FUNCTIONAL reason why they can't...that is, clearly stating that disruption BY HOMOPHOBES will not be tolerated and ENFORCING that, doubters will look back with veritable egg souffles on their face at how smoothly it went.

I saw a brief mention on CNN that they will have an interview with Lt. Choi, back in uniform. I was overcome with pride and immediately searched the web, finding this page.

The feeling I have this minute can only be compared to that when Bernie Shaw, et al first reported in 1991 from Kuwait. Their report opened with an "all's calm," but within seconds we heard the first bombs exploding in the background. Operation Desert Storm had begun. The right Gulf War was on and just days away from completion all at once.

Anyone who shared that moment can no doubt recall the immense pride we felt as a nation. It was one of those moments that I will remember vividly. America's goodness was unmistakable.

As I sit here now, welled with emotion, I know that America is today a little stronger! Even the election night 2008 pales in comparison to this moment. I am again, "Proud to be an American!"

No one is going to silence Dan! I got an email from him today announcing 13 upcoming speaking engagements!

The page also indicates he is having a public conference call tomorrow night with Sen. Gillibrand in conjunction with the Courage Campaign. Details are in the link if anyone wants to join and listen in.

I think the powers that be KNOW that if they followed through with his actual discharge, all hell would break loose.

John R. Selig | February 13, 2010 1:47 PM

I attended this session at Creating Change and it was one of the highlights of the entire conference. Suye and Becky were outstanding as was the video they showed. I look forward to meeting Lt. Dan Choi someday and definitely plan on having him on my John Selig Outspoken podcast but the session was fantastic even without him being there. Knights Out is an amazing organization and all of its members are heroes in y book.

Daniel Choi is a true American hero and leader. The U.S. Military should be ashamed that they would even consider dismissing him and other men and women with incredible dignity, integrity, and loyalty. If they do kick him out, I hope he will run for office. We need more out and proud politicians with the kind of courage and dedication you see in Daniel Choi.

Thanks for sharing these great photos Jeff!