"So, service... service is very simple. It means you sacrifice yourself and subordinate yourself to a cause that is great. It's not about rank. Service is not about the promise of a paycheck or a pension or being superior to people. Service is defined as sacrifice; leadership is defined as a sacrifice on behalf of the mission. And so my advice to you, when you come back home from serving your country overseas and your back is against the wall, remember that you don't control many thing--you don't control money, you don't control the media, you don't control politics, you don't control a lot of things. But you do control when you give up. So don't give up until that mission is accomplished. Thanks." -- Dan Choi
What does it mean to serve?
On March 19, 2009, Lt. Dan Choi, a West Point graduate and Iraq veteran fluent in Arabic, announced that he was gay on The Rachel Maddow Show. Because of three words – “I am gay” – Lt. Choi’s life changed forever. Despite his extreme value as an Arabic speaker able to communicate quickly and clearly with the Iraqi people, one month after his announcement Lt. Choi was notified that the Army had begun discharge proceedings against him. He was one of only eight soldiers from his graduating class who majored in Arabic.
At West Point, Lt. Choi recited the Cadet Prayer every Sunday. It taught him to “choose the harder right over the easier wrong” and to “never be content with a half truth when the whole can be won.” The Cadet Honor Code demanded truthfulness and honesty. It imposed a zero-tolerance policy against deception, or hiding behind comfort. Following the Honor Code isn’t always easy, but honor and integrity are 24-hour values. That is why Lt. Choi refused to lie about his identity. Lt. Choi served for a decade under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: a policy that forces American soldiers to deceive and lie about their sexual orientation and forces others to tolerate deception and lying. These values are completely opposed to what he learned at West Point. Deception and lies poison a unit and cripple a fighting force.
On June 30, 2009 Lt. Choi stood trial for telling the truth. He appealed (unsuccessfully) to his Commander in Chief, President Barack Obama. At trial, prosecutors presented videos of his public appearances as evidence while Lt. Choi gave his testimony in Arabic. When asked for a translation he wrote his statement in Arabic and English for court record. He also presented over 260,000 support statements from soldiers, citizens, members of congress, Iraqi friends, and his boyfriend. The military board decided to discharge Lt. Choi for violation of "Don't Ask Don't Tell." While the case was appealed to the Secretary of Defense, Lt. Choi served openly in his infantry unit for over a year while publicly pushing for the repeal of the immoral policy. In October 2009 he was a national co-chair of the March on Washington for LGBT Equality, and laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
On March 19, 2010 Lt. Choi handcuffed himself to the White House fence with fellow gay veteran Captain James Pietrangelo II. The two were arrested and spent the night in prison. They repeated the action on April 20, 2010 with four other veterans including a transgender navy veteran, Petty Officer Autumn Sandeen. After release, Choi and Pietrangelo pleaded not guilty and a White House stay-away order was imposed until trial. In July 2010 they stood trial and all charges were dropped. A week later, Lt. Choi and seven other activists blocked traffic on Las Vegas Boulevard in a protest to secure Employment Non-Discrimination for LGBT Americans. Following his release from prison, he received notification of his honorable discharge under "Don't Ask Don't Tell." He wrote a letter to the Senate Majority Leader, relinquishing his West Point class ring.
After a final arrest at the White House on November 15, 2010, Choi attended the bill signing that would repeal "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and restore the honor of service to millions of American veterans unjustly punished for their integrity. Following the signing, the Senate Majority Leader, noting its inscriptions "Duty, Honor, Country" and "Protectors of the Free," returned Lt. Choi's West Point class ring. Choi replied: "The next time I get a ring from a man, it better be for full, equal, American marriage."
Lt. Choi continues to advocate for full LGBT civil rights and veteran's health. He has served as Grand Marshal of the San Francisco, New York City, Miami, and Wichita LGBT Pride Parades, appeared frequently on national and international news programs, and serves on the boards of Marriage Equality USA and the American Foundation for Equal Rights. He is a graduate of the US Army Scout Leaders Course, Air Assault School, Parachutist School, and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Harvard University.