December 8, 2010

NEN Exclusive: Interview with Lt. Dan Choi.~ Shannon McCoy

When that first person inevitably takes a swing at your good-hearted intentions, you need to defend what your intuition tells you is right. To lead another person— for all their differences in perception—to your realization, you need facts and concrete suggestions for solutions.

Killer charisma doesn’t hurt either.

Lieutenant Dan Choi’s presence was fiery from the get-go. To be honest, I was blown away by the personality that he brought (and sustained) for over an hour. His most persuasive moments, however, came when he combined this enthusiasm with real world solutions to contrast the way the world is and how it ought to (and can?) be.

Lieutenant Choi opened with a simple, relatable thought:

“In order to be friends with more people, you can always just hide who you are.”

You can make people comfortable by compromising your value system, your religious ideology, your identity. But at what cost?

During his service in Iraq, Lieutenant Choi kept himself running on the idea that he was fighting in this War in the name of pluralistic democracy. He found it difficult to sustain his ideals when the home for which he was sweating and bleeding didn’t reflect what the fighting was meant to create in the hearts and minds of the Middle East. Even in America, many people’s voices are silenced because they do not and cannot behave according to the socially acceptable script. As a result, people keep themselves to themselves just to get ahead.

“I don’t think that people should stymie themselves,” Lieutenant Choi said, “They get told by the older generation that they should climb the ladder and then come out and I think that’s immoral and that’s bullshit.”

This sort of oppression of identity runs deeper than a repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. When I asked about the next steps to take against this mindset, Lieutenant Choi noted that legislative rights are only the beginning.

“The gay movement needs to, number one, kick itself in the ass and remember that this is more than just a legislative fight. They need to start an ‘It Gets Better’ project and hotlines [for the gay soldiers]…There has to be something specifically tailored for gay veterans [who] also have to band together within straight veteran groups so that they have increased visibility, particularly in the professions where it is difficult to come out.”

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