National Guardsman Fights 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

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First Lieutenant Dan Choi

First Lt. Dan Choi takes part in the 39th annual gay pride parade on June 28 in San Francisco. David Paul Morris/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption David Paul Morris/Getty Images

Lt. Dan Choi, an Iraq war veteran and 2003 graduate of West Point, was ordered out of the U.S. military last week after publicly announcing in March that he is gay.

Choi, 28, who is fluent in Arabic, left active duty to join the New York National Guard in June 2008. Choi is being discharged for violating the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which dates back to the Clinton administration. The policy allows for men and women to serve as long as they do not disclose their sexual orientation. Since it was enacted, gay civil rights advocates have been pushing for its abolition.

Choi kept his sexual orientation a secret when he joined the military, but decided to go public after starting his first relationship with a man.

"Integrity and honor and telling the truth — those are 24-hour operations, those are seven-days-a-week operations," Choi said. "You can't just choose when you tell the truth, especially about something so important that makes you a whole person."

Choi, who was born to Korean immigrants, is the son of a Southern Baptist minister. He says he knew he was gay by the time he was in the fourth grade.

"I said, 'Jesus, let me wake up tomorrow and be straight,' " Choi said. "And it just never happened. My prayers were never answered."

Choi served in Iraq for 15 months, beginning in 2006. While deployed, he told his fellow soldiers he had a girlfriend at home named Martha. After announcing that he was gay, however, Choi says his subordinates and fellow soldiers "didn't care."

"[Soldiers are] getting blown up and shot at, and we got through things together," Choi said. "You don't care — the person on your right and left — what their sexual orientation is. You work together, and that diversity actually helps to build a unit."

Choi said he is being discharged for "being honest," and that he was judged only for his words of truth, not his actions.

"[Telling the truth] makes me a better person. It makes me a better citizen. It makes me a better Christian. It makes me a better soldier."

According to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, nearly 13,000 gay men and women have been discharged from the military since the "don't ask, don't tell" policy was enacted in the '90s.

Hear the full conversation with 1st Lt. Dan Choi by clicking the "listen" button in the upper left-hand corner.



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