Gay Rights Activist Lt. Dan Choi Speaks at Athenaeum

Lieutenant Dan Choi, an American infantry officer who was discharged last March when he came out as gay, spoke to students at the Claremont McKenna College Athenaeum on Friday.Choi began his speech with a poem in Arabic about identity and the importance of being true to oneself. He then said that after 10 years of serving under the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, he could not lie about who he was anymore.“The greatest insult that I gave to anybody throughout the entire time was to my boyfriend, as I couldn’t tell anybody that … this person that meant so much to me … I couldn’t even reveal who he was. I had to lie about it,” Choi said. “Until I fell in love, I [hadn’t] understood the reason why ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ is so harmful.”Choi proceeded to reenact the moment that he first came out to his parents complete with high-pitched imitations of their Korean accents. He said that because Koreans often think there are no gay Koreans, his parents found it difficult to accept his orientation at first.“My dad got so irrational at one point … he said ‘This is the number one sin, the number one shame, you cannot do this,’” Choi said.Angel Quicksey CM ’12 signed up early to have the chance to sit at the head table with Lt. Choi. She said she was struck by the fact that Choi did not feel a strong need to come out of the closet until he fell in love.“It was interesting that he hadn’t even come out until 10 months ago to anyone,” she said. “And all of a sudden, 10 months later, he’s this very passionate activist who’s traveling around the country speaking about gay rights and the military.”During the question and answer session following his speech, Choi said repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is not a priority on political agendas right now because of other pressing issues. He said he hopes to make the issue more visible to legislators.“A lot of people … [ask] ‘what if you don’t get Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repealed tomorrow, or the next week?,’” Choi said. “But the greatest effect of anything we do is when I continue to get those messages that say ‘you just standing up and you being who you are … look at that.’”

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