Campus Life

LGBT+ Activist Motivates Students

A variety of students, faculty and staff members stood before guest speaker and LGBT-rights activist Lt. Dan Choi on Oct. 8, echoing his shouts that filled the Ida Waldran Auditorium.
“I am somebody. I deserve full equality. Right here. Right now. I am somebody,” they repeated after Choi.
Choi spoke as part of a series of LGBT pride events on campus for October’s LGBT History Month.
“He was part of a list of LGBT speakers we saw from an agency that promotes diversity speakers,” Staff Counselor and Coordinator of Outreach Programming Reesa Ramsahai said.
During an eloquently worded and passionate speech, Choi discussed coming out, being an openly gay Iraq veteran and his time as a notorious anti-“don’t ask, don’t tell” activist, which ultimately led to his discharge from the military.
“The only reason why I came out was because I fell in love…I never studied civil disobedience,” Choi said. “I learned the reason why we joined the military…I knew the extent to which people would go to defend [our]principles, to have the freedom to marry whom you love.”
Choi, a West Point graduate fluent in Arabic, was in an infantry office in Iraq for two years before transferring to the New York Army National Guard, where he was an infantry platoon leader.
During his service, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy—a former law that prohibited military personnel from engaging in homosexual acts or being openly homosexual—was still in use.
In Iraq, he was inspired by a Shia Muslim-pride rally in Baghdad. The group openly declared themselves as Shias in an oppressive Sunni area, something Choi saw as incredibly brave.
“I was surprised because these people were announcing who they were after being oppressed for so long,” Choi said. “When I went home, I wanted so badly to do the same.”
Desiring to be unapologetically his true self, and with an added love-driven courage, Choi first came out to his siblings and eventually his parents, although his parents did not support his lifestyle. His father was a Southern Baptist preacher and highly disapproved of homosexuality.
Choi then co-founded an activist organization comprising LGBT West Point graduates called Knights Out, which Choi joked was because “gays love double entendres.”
Eventually, he came out to the world as a gay military officer on “The Rachel Maddow Show” as a Knights Out representative.
He was subsequently discharged from the military, but not before he’d been arrested for handcuffing himself to the White House gate during a protest.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed in 2011, but the fight for equality isn’t over for Choi, which he expressed while answering questions from the audience after his speech.
“Do you think the fear and the stigma is still [present]in the military today?” freshman Corey Pillow, current army member, asked. “Yes, I do,” Choi responded. “We all want to say it’s gotten better…but the reality is that it’s not always going to get better. We were willing to break that rule… that’s where it starts, but we still have a long way to go.”
He encouraged the people listening in Ida Waldran to keep repeating the “I am somebody” mantra not because it’s popular, for attention or even for one’s self, but to spread courage to those who may never find it otherwise.
“The movement is not over. The fight is not done,” Choi said. “The people sitting next to you in class, the people you meet, they need people to stand up. They need others to help them.”
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 4, 2015 print edition of The Echo.
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