Repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ vet Dan Choi says


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Army veteran and gay-rights activist Lt. Dan Choi spoke to a crowd of roughly 600 on the University of Iowa campus Thursday, advocating for the repeal of the controversial Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.

“The policy is religion-based bigotry,” he told the crowd in the IMU Main Lounge. His speech was sponsored by the University Lecture Committee and the UI College of Law’s Journal of Gender, Race & Justice. “There’s a culture in the military … that a man should be of this normative [masculine] behavior.”

Choi became known for speaking out against the policy, implemented in 1994 under the National Defense Authorization Act, when he came out as gay on the “Rachel Maddow Show” in March 2009. He had concealed his homosexuality for 10 years while serving in the military.

Some backers of the law contend that military morale would suffer if gays served openly.

In an interview this week with The Daily Iowan, Choi, who also served as an infantry officer, said he has a different view of morale in the military.

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“What [unit cohesion] means to me is that we’re going to go to war and that we need to know everything about each other,” Choi said. “Just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you’re attracted to every single person.”

Others agree.

Ben Stone, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, said his organization has been advocating for its repeal.

“We believe it is a violation of equal protection,” he said. “It’s discriminatory, and there’s no valid basis for it.”

Johnson County Democrats Chairman Dennis Roseman also spoke out against the law.

“It’s not working,” he said. “I think that’s pretty clear.”

Though the Johnson County Republicans have yet to announce their stance on the issue, local party head Bob Anderson said he thinks it’s a “national-security concern because it involves our armed forces.”

Gov. Chet Culver has not taken a public stance, noting that it is a federal issue.

At the federal level, a bill to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — the Military Readiness Enhancement Act — is before the U.S. House Armed Services committee.

During a question-and-answer session Thursday, Choi read from a petition given to him by a National Guard soldier that called for a repeal of the policy in the Iowa National Guard.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is not addressed in the UI Army ROTC classroom, Lt. Col. Dave Deyak said.

Instead, teachers focus on issues and scenarios on the battlefield, said Deyak, a UI professor of military science.

No cadets in the UI Army ROTC have been discharged because of their sexual orientation, he said.

During Choi’s speech, the mood shifted from lighthearted to serious between stories about coming out to his family and condemnation of the military policy.

Choi discussed with the DI the difficulty of coming out to his family. A first-generation Korean American, Choi was raised in a traditional Korean household in Orange County, Calif.

When Choi’s brother got married while he was home from duty in Iraq, his mother started asking when he was going to tie the knot. She wanted him to have “a dozen Korean grandbabies for her,” the West Point graduate said.

Choi’s father, a Baptist minister, was shaken when Choi told them he was gay in January 2009. He pointed to Bible verses, telling him that it was “shameful” to be gay.

Over time, his father was able to come to terms. After appearances on national news shows, Choi got a phone call from his father, who told him that he accepted him as his gay son.

With several other gay West Point graduates, Choi started Knights Out, an activist group seeking the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

A change in policy needs to be implemented immediately, Choi said. He noted Army values are what drives him to advocate for an open military.

“We’ve had 16 years to get to this point,” Choi said. “That’s a cause for major disappointment.”

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