Lt. Dan Choi, a 29-year-old West Point educated Iraq veteran and Arabic translator, was separated from the army in 2008 due to what the military saw as an unacceptable personality flaw: he’s gay.
Tuesday afternoon in New York’s Times Square, Choi triumphantly walked into a military recruiting station and reenlisted in the Army, thanks to a court decision earlier that day which froze enforcement of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. He’s likely among the first openly gay service members to return after being expelled.
Choi announced his plans mid-afternoon via Twitter. By the time he’d arrived at the recruiting station, a media storm was already swirling outside.
“They didn’t disintegrate in there,” he said after announcing to reporters that his application had been accepted pending some medical paperwork. “The unit cohesion is doing just fine.”
Conservative critics who favored the Clinton-era policy have argued that allowing gays and lesbians in the military would damage soldiers morale. Choi’s remark appeared to be a sly jab at their contention.
“Able bodied, patriotic Americans, regardless of their orientation, are eligible to come on back and sign up to serve their country, openly, honestly, with integrity, acknowledging their partners, acknowledging their families and their lives as full citizens. I encourage everyone else to do that. Being in there today was absolutely exciting and absolutely vindicating.”
Military recruiters, as a matter of policy, do not ask about a recruit’s sexual orientation. By court order, they now must accept recruits who say they’re gay. Gay advocate groups, however, have recommended that closeted soldiers remain silent about their sexuality out of concern that “Don’t Ask” could be reinstated on an appeal.
President Obama’s Justice Department will likely seek to have the ruling overturned, even though the president has promised to see the policy repealed entirely.
In a twist of irony, the lawsuit that caused the courts to overturn the discriminatory policy was brought by a group of gay Republicans.
“These soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guardsmen sacrifice so much in defense of our nation and our Constitution,” Christian Berle, chairman of the Log Cabin Republicans, said in a press release. “It is imperative that their constitutional freedoms be protected as well. This decision is also a victory for all who support a strong national defense. No longer will our military be compelled to discharge servicemembers with valuable skills and experience because of an archaic policy mandating irrational discrimination.”
Lt. Choi was one of several former soldiers who chained themselves to the White House fence in March to protest the “Don’t Ask” policy. He was arrested for civil disobedience.
Though still in a potential legal limbo, openly gay service members are now very much a reality for the US military.
This video was captured and published by gay blog Boy Culture on Oct. 19, 2010.