Saturday, March 21, 2009

Courage and Grace

The other night, on the Rachel Maddow Show, National Guard 1st Lt. Dan Choi came out on national television and effectively put himself on notice. This act of honesty and integrity has endangered the career of an Iraqi combat war veteran, Arabic translator and West Point graduate because of "Don't Ask Don't Tell," an unfair and mindless policy which even some of its earlier proponents believe should be repealed.

Actually, Lt. Choi stepped out earlier in the week with the launch of Knights Out, a "support and education organization that promotes dignity, diversity, and respect for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) alumni of the United States Military Academy at West Point and their family and allies."

As the Army Times reports:

Thirty-eight graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., came out of the closet Monday with an offer to help their alma mater educate future Army leaders on the need to accept and honor the sacrifices of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender troops.

“Knights Out” wants to serve as a connection between gay troops and Army administrators, particularly at West Point, to provide an “open forum” for communication between gay West Point graduates and their fellow alumni and to serve in an advisory role for West Point leaders in the eventuality — which the group believes is both “imminent and inevitable” — that the law and policy collectively known as “don’t ask, don’t tell” are repealed by Congress.

“We’re publicly announcing our sexuality, our orientation,” said 1st Lt. Dan Choi, a National Guardsman with the 1st Bn., 69th Infantry, based in Manhattan. “It’s just one part of who we are in saying that we are standing to be counted.”

In forming Knights Out, its 38 members are following the example of similar support and education groups formed by graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy and U.S. Air Force Academy, known respectively as USNA Out and Blue Alliance. Most if not all of these groups’ members also belong to the Service Academy Gay and Lesbian Alumni social network, a group that Knights Out claims includes some active-duty commanders serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Choi, a Korean by descent, is a combat veteran of Iraq who graduated from West Point in 2003 with a degree in Arabic language. He said his unit is aware that he’s a homosexual and added, “I’m very comfortable with all the repercussions right now. To me, it’s about doing the right thing, not about trying to fit into the process that gets you the rank or prevents you from getting a discharge.

“If that’s the repercussion, I’m ready to take it,” he said. “I think it’s more important that I let everybody know that … it is a wrong policy.”

Choi said the group has contacted West Point leadership and gotten “a very warm response.” An academy spokesman couldn’t confirm that assertion, noting that today was the first day of West Point’s spring break and that the campus was nearly empty.

The reality is, more and more Americans realize that there is no reason for keeping brave, honest and patriotic American women and men from military service. Back in July 2008, the Washington Post had an article which noted that
Seventy-five percent of Americans in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll said gay people who are open about their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military, up from 62 percent in early 2001 and 44 percent in 1993.

Majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents alike now believe it is acceptable for openly gay people to serve in the U.S. armed forces. Shortly after he took office in 1993, Clinton faced strong resistance to his campaign pledge to lift the military's ban on allowing gay people to enlist. At that time, 67 percent of Republicans and 75 percent of conservatives opposed the idea. A majority of independents, 56 percent, and 45 percent of Democrats also opposed changing the policy.

Today, Americans have become more supportive of allowing openly gay men and women to serve in the armed forces. Support from Republicans has doubled over the past 15 years, from 32 to 64 percent. More than eight in 10 Democrats and more than three-quarters of independents now support the idea, as did nearly two-thirds of self-described conservatives.

More power to Lt. Choi and all the inspiring women and men of Knights Out, USNA Out, Blue Alliance, and the 65,000 LGBT Americans currently serving in the Armed Forces. Let us not forget the 12,500 plus service members who have been discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” since 1993, and countless others that have made the choice not to join the military or have left military service due to a discriminatory law.

Image from the quoted Army Times webpage.

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