Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Conversation with Dan Choi, Part 3: Allies

And now, Part 3 of an interview that I conducted early last year....

Yeah, I know; it's a lot more than a little late. But better late than never, right?

What happened? Well, for starters, I procrastinated on doing the research to introduce Part 3. Then my computer broke, and it remained broken for a year or so. It's finally up and running, so I have access to my interview files now. I figured I might as well post the final part here, for anyone who happens to remember the first two parts and wants to read the conclusion to the interview.

In the time since I posted Part 1 and Part 2, Don't Ask, Don't Tell has been repealed. The repeal finally went into effect on September 20, 2011. Transgender soldiers still are not allowed to serve. Since attempts to declare DADT unconstitutional have so far failed, the policy can be reinstated by executive fiat in the future. You can read the full timeline of the rise and fall of Don't Ask, Don't Tell here.

In Part 1 of this interview, Lt. Choi discussed the importance of sacrifice in the struggle for civil rights. In Part 2, he explained the necessity of agitation in social justice movements. In Part 3, he talks about allies—and I surprise him with a revelation of my own.

These themes are still relevant now, after the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Much can be learned from Lt. Dan Choi, brilliant activist that he is.

We know that allies are indispensable for our movement. How can we get more allies involved in activism? How can we get them to understand that our struggle is relevant to them?

That question requires us to look at the process of how somebody becomes an ally. Luella, you can answer that very eloquently yourself. If you didn’t know gay people, if you weren’t personally in contact with somebody who is gay, I think it would be very difficult to jump into activism as a straight ally, or as somebody who would get involved or contribute in any way. I believe that deep down in the heart of everybody who is an activist—whether they’re gay, or straight, or trans, or whatever their identity—I believe that there is a personal motivation as to why. They saw somebody who was either injured, or insulted, or damaged—or even vindicated and empowered—and they knew the kinds of injustice that exist. Or they just have a personal fondness for somebody who made the opportunity available to them. But deep down, the very foundation and the root of why people have jumped into activism, and in this movement, is because they have a personal motivation, because somebody got them to think deeply about the issues.

And so, in the end, it’s still required for us just to come out of the closet. For gay people, coming out of the closet is the most powerful thing, and the most accessible element to everybody, because essentially, it costs nothing but the fetters of having to lie, and shedding the kind of imprisonment that has been bothering you; that’s the only thing you lose. It’s accessible to everybody, and then, the people who hear it—it doesn’t just end there, because you’re a straight ally, and you’re doing—

Actually—speaking of coming out—I guess you were under the impression that I’m straight, but I’m actually bi.

Oh, okay. I didn’t realize that. Well, now you just told me.


I just assumed, because you were talking about your boyfriend.

Well, that’s one of the problems with bisexual erasure. But that’s a whole other topic.

Yeah, well, now you’re educating me, which is—that is evidence right there. Any time that we are able to be bolder in our truth, it certainly empowers ourselves, but it empowers other people, as well. And one of the many important things to realize with the movement as a whole is that not everybody is going to have the wherewithal to make the sacrifices that are necessary. And I understand completely that there are some who might find it very unpalatable—unimaginable—to be involved, and to make those sacrifices. I do not look down on them.

However, we have all recognized and acknowledged the importance of the very act of stepping up and searing into the consciousness—not only of the people that need to be convinced, but of the people within our own community—that there are people within our family, our community, that this means so much to their personal journeys and lives that they are willing to step up to this level. And it needs to be a very clear message that resonates with every gay person. We’ve done this, and we’re going to continue doing this. We need you to be involved, as well. What will you do? Everybody has something that they can contribute.

And I’m not just going to think in the linear sense of, okay, well, the civil disobedience only, and most pointedly, is about getting this one Defense Authorization Bill. It’s obvious it does more than that. And the larger journey and the effort for me—and what gives me the most hope and inspiration—is when I hear that other people who have no desire to do anything with the military, they see these things, and they see what our group of people is doing, and our group is continuing to grow. That has inspired other people to come out of the closet, to have courage and faith that since these people are being true to themselves—these people that are no longer going to lie anymore—they could also have strength.

So, to think so narrowly that the only ramifications of this civil disobedience are this law, or the realm of politics, is absolutely shortsighted. There is something of a clear message that deeply resonated with a lot of people throughout the entire community, and that’s why you see so many people who have nothing to do with the military, or who never want anybody to be in the military, who try to be part of it, and to be strengthened and emboldened by the actions of others. If that’s all that we’ve achieved with this, it’s probably one of the most important things that can result out of it. And obviously, it is tied to the legislative goals, and it is tied to the political goals, and that, too, is an important thing, but what needs to deeply resonate is the very important element of our civil disobedience that it is also a message within our own community.

Lieutenant Choi, thank you for your courage, leadership, and personal sacrifice, and thank you very much for speaking with me today.

No problem, Luella.

This interview has been edited for readability. Many thanks to Colin Murphy and Adam Shriver for their advice and assistance with editing. If you’d like to get involved in grassroots LGBT activism in St. Louis, please visit You can find info on grassroots organizing for LGBT equality wherever you are at And please join the movement for economic equality for all Americans, the 99% movement of Occupy Wall Street and other local occupations like Occupy St. Louis.

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