Dan Choi, the U.S. Army first lieutenant, all but assured himself a dismissal from the armed forces after going on Rachel Maddow‘s television program in March 2009 and violating the second phrase of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. So how come he’s back on active duty?
Because he hasn’t been discharged. And he may never be.
Choi was supposed to headline a workshop at Creating Change, this past weekend’s NGLTF activism conference, but he was a no-show. As his replacement explained, that’s because Choi was called back to service by the Army. Except: They wanted him back? Los Angeles-based photographer Jeff Sheng, who shot Choi for a photo series (and took this picture), spoke with the lieutenant to find out what the deal is. He relays: “Apparently, Lt. Choi’s commander has always been in full support of him, and even after Lt. Choi came out on The Rachel Maddow Show, his commander did not press for his discharge. The military did eventually serve Lt. Choi a discharge notification – essentially firing him from his job, but he was allowed to fight this at trial, and as it currently stands, the discharge has not been finalized. Given the current state of how DADT is in such flux, and also, in my opinion, the prominence and celebrity of Lt. Choi, his discharge might never be fully enforced.”
Well! This is, without question, a significant development in the DADT battle. Choi is arguably the most public face of the policy, and his name is well known to Pentagon officials and White House advisers; even President Obama would recognize his face. And that there’s been no top-down effort to keep him from serving — no “let’s wait and see” approach from publicity-minded military leaders above Choi’s commander — is indeed a nod toward Obama’s push to repeal the law.
So while Sec. Gates and Adm. Mullen promise a not-so-expeditious review of DADT, in the meantime the policy’s most famous face — derided by institutional activists — is back on duty, working to keep America and its allies safe. Be well, Choi. We have hope yet.
UPDATE 2/10: Choi clarifies in a statement: “I was never fully discharged and have been substituting drills because of my schedule of lobbying and pushing for repeal. I attended national guard duty this past weekend beacuse we needed to train on critical skills for a possible upcoming deployment. My discharge is still pending, but I have returned to work – and there are no instances of decreased good order or discipline. I sleep in an open bay with little privacy. No issues. Good to be back with my unit! – although I can still be fired at any moment for DADT.”