We beamed with joy as we peered across a room crowded with openly gay and lesbian service members and their loved ones—but we couldn’t help but wonder where Dan Choi was. A vocal critic and activist, Choi was the face of DADT for many—keeping the ban in the papers and rallying the troops (so to speak).
Not only was Choi not at the event, produced by the Service Members Legal Defense Network, his face didn’t appear on the video montage decorating the walls of the Intrepid. He wasn’t even one of the brave enlistees thanked by Adm. Mullen, host Barbara Walters and others.
At another time Choi might’ve made it his business to show up, invited or not. But it turns out he’s knee-deep in legal trouble stemming from his arrest in 2010, when he and others chained himself to the White House fence.
Currently prosecutors from the Department of Justice are seeking the maximum six-month sentence, and Choi has had to provide for his defense out of his own pocket. “Bill collectors call three times a day regarding my $3000 “DADT Discharge Debt,” he reveals in an e-mail. “They slashed my veterans disability check and my credit stinks.”
He’s defending himself in the case—”I have asked several gay legal groups to take on my case, but they refused”—and has filed a motion to dismiss the charges against him based on prosecutorial misconduct. The motion, which will be heard on October 17, claims that White House emails ordering a federal trial before the protest even began were kept secret. (Interestingly enough, Choi’s also up on charges for protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline, but is only required to appear before a Magistrate or, as he calls it, “basically Traffic Court.”)
As Choi made clear in an op-ed for the Advocate, he’s not about to stop fighting:
Our work, however, is not done in the U.S. Armed Forces. Sexual assault without punitive action is still rampant in the military, and we haven’t yet explored how best to adequately protect LGB soldiers from harassment. Our transgender brothers and sisters are still unable to add their names to those who may openly serve. Great Americans like Autumn Sandeen, a trans woman who was arrested with me at the White House protesting DADT, are unable to consider themselves “full” citizens.
In a matter of months, Dan Choi went from the beloved poster boy for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell to a controversial activist many in Big Gay would like to pretend doesn’t exist. You might not always agree with his tactics or personality, but the war against bigotry is fought on many fronts, from within the system and without.
Let’s not forget that—or Dan—as we blow out the candles on one year of an open and inclusive military.
Dan Choi will appear on MSNBC to discuss the repeal of DADT on Saturday, September 22, at 3pm.