pay days

Should We Fault Dan Choi For Earning Some Cash For Being An Activist?

I sort of have no problem with Dan Choi earning some cash from his activism. After all, the guy is out of a job, and while some other private employers might value his skill set, for now he has no income. And why shouldn’t full-time activists be able to earn a living from their hard work?

Choi has an agent. He gets paid speaking fees (like $7,500 at Texas A&M). This upsets activist Michael Petrelis and Melanie Nathan at Lez Get Real, because hey, why should activists make bank doing good works?

Because it’s often their full-time job, that’s why. Choi earning some cash for speaking in front of audiences, and perhaps shopping a book around, is not the same thing as collecting a salary for leading, say, the Human Rights Campaign. Choi is a private, currently unemployed citizen. He’s got a background and expertise that makes him qualified to speak on gays in the military and other civil rights issues. (There’s also some contention about Choi having his first-class travel expenses, totaling $2,300 for A&M, paid by the university, but that’s a pretty standard rider.) Much of this criticism — which also gets aimed at Choi’s co-horts, GetEQUAL’s Robin McGehee and Kip Williams, whom gave up full-time jobs to do activism full-time — is also tied to the timing of Choi acknowledging his discharge (which which was finalized in June but Choi says he didn’t find out until this month when contacted by Gay City News) because, supposedly, his speaking gigs are more profitable when he’s in uniform.

But considering all the factors, I sort of can’t believe Choi would lie about not knowing he was discharged, as his entire platform for activism was fighting his the policy that would enable discharge. That he was discharged arguably strengthens Choi’s argument: He is now a qualified-but-fired gay soldier, proving his point about the discriminatory nature of DADT.

At the end of all this, you’ll make your own decision about whether Choi’s tactics — White House fence chaining, giving Harry Reid his West Point ring — are helping or hurting the cause. But don’t fault the guy for pocketing some cash along the way. Choi is not part of Gay Inc., or at least its most problematic elements (namely, soliciting donations while doing nothing to challenge the political establishment). Nathan is right to demand some transparency from Choi, as he’s among those out there calling for the gay community to rally behind his causes. You have the right to make an informed decision about whether you want to join him.

But we’d be wrong to expect full-time activists to donate their time and resources gratis without any pay days. They have mortgages to pay, families to feed, and discriminatory taxes to file. If these courageous men and women weren’t able to make some money from their activities, we likely wouldn’t have them around.