If one thing is clear from last week’s Dan Choi-Get Equal events, it’s that the new groundswell of Active Activism is at war with Gay Inc.’s way of doing things. As Choi and Robin McGehee have shown, this is a war for equal rights. And while the Human Rights Campaign thought it would use Choi as just another puppet in its self-serving mission of soft, ineffective tactics, the Army lieutenant just made the bold step of telling them to fuck off.
What HRC is engaged in is Inactive Activism. Lots of “pretty pleases” and “sir would you permit mes.” As Choi tells Newsweek: “Why not now? Within the gay community so many leaders want acceptance from polite society. I think there’s been a betrayal of what is down inside of us in order to achieve what looks popular, what look enviable. The movement seems to be centered around how to become an elite. There is a deep schism [in the gay-rights movement], everyone knows this. But this shouldn’t be about which group has better branding. There is a tremor right now in every gay and transgender youth that these groups are not grasping. I would say to them—you do not represent us if all you are looking for is a ladder in to elite society. When I get messages from people who want to be a part of this I ask back: what are you willing to sacrifice? We are tired of being stereotyped as privileged, bourgeois elites. Is someone willing to give up their career, their relationships with powerful people, their Rolodex, or their parents’ love to stand up for who they are? I’m giving up my military rank, my unit—which to me is a family—my veterans’ benefits, my health care, so what are you willing to sacrifice?”
There are those already arguing that Choi, by handcuffing himself to the White House fence, turned himself into a punchline — and useless to the DADT repeal effort, because who can take seriously the guy who handcuffs himself to the White House. And that, as a still-enlisted service member, his behavior was reckless and disgraced the uniform he wears. But there’s something so refreshing about seeing a determined man, who is personally affected by a discriminatory policy, mobilize at the very moment when HRC refuses. And it’s not refreshing — it’s courageous — to see this man do so while upholding his promise to serve his country and keep his fellow Americans safe. Because that is what this fight is about.
“Why now?,” Choi asks rhetorically. “Because you get tired of talking. [Over the past two years] I’ve done 50 live interviews, a hundred other interviews, how much more talk am I expected to produce? When I heard Kathy Griffin was going to be a spokeswoman for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I wondered about that. I have great respect for her as an advocate. But if [the Human Rights Campaign] thinks that having a rally at Freedom Plaza with a comedienne is the right approach, I have to wonder. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is not a joking matter to me. To be at Freedom Plaza and not at the White House or Congress? Who are they trying to influence? I felt like they were just trying to speak to themselves. If that’s the best the lobbying groups and HRC can do, then I don’t know how these powerful groups are supposed to represent our community. Kathy Griffin and [HRC president] Jay Solmonese said they would march with me to the White House but didn’t. I feel so betrayed by them. We all know the political reality now. The only way for the repeal to go through is for the president to take leadership and put it in the Defense Authorization Bill. There’s a sunset on this, and it’s happening quickly. Obama told us at the HRC dinner last year, you need to put pressure on me. I was there at that dinner, in uniform. So this is my mission; the president said to pressure him and I heard that as a warning order.”
The Human Rights Campaign, meanwhile, heard that as a cash register ringing.