Saturday, April 1st, 2023

On “The Passion of Dan Choi”

Billy GloverDecember 10, 2013.

I think this article in Prospect Magazine, “The Passion of Dan Choi,” is very important for the LGBT community and more generically for anyone thinking that celebrity lasts forever and everyone will love you—especially those working for the same cause.

Each person has to be able to work for the cause and still like him/herself after his time in work is past. That seems to be  generic problem with many people-they feel worthless without a job and title.

It confirms most of what Don Slater and Dorr Legg and others warned activists about from 1950s on. The writer, Gabriel Arana, has done a good job, and his article does what I have often asked GLBT journalists/historians to do: follow up and tell us what happened to those who were active and then disappeared.

Perhaps I found it interesting because he seemed to do what I did, reach a point where you said to hell with it and acted badly and not in the best interests of the service—which he chose to join.

In a strange world, he both found out you can not depend on those who should be supporting you and he became a bad example of why letting one person be the speaker, is not good. What even the article fails to point out, and is relevant, is what had been done before Choi, on the problem/issue.  He should have known of the early efforts. It seems to me a copout to call DADT a bad idea—it was the best for that time. And his efforts to get ahead of others working more silently and even for a longer time, is not honorable and shows he is not a good co-worker/soldier.


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  1. Michael Bedwell

    With huge respect, Billy, I’m sorry but not surprised that you got the wrong impression about Dan from the article. But I assure you that it was apparent from when he and I first met in the summer of 2009 that he was eager to learn about and totally respected and appreciated all of the efforts to end that ban that had come before. I organized two events that year that he helped lead: placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery on behalf of the LGBT community and its veterans, and the DADT protest and memorial to Leonard Matlovich in Congressional Cemetery with some four generations of fighters against the ban including Randy Wicker, Frank Kameny, Tracy Thorne-Begland, and Joe Zuniga. Later in a speech at Harvard, he said: “I stand on the shoulders of Martin Luther King. I stand on the shoulders of Leonard Matlovich.”

    Contrary to the picture the article paints, he NEVER wanted nor thought he was “IT.” [As I’m sure you know, calling someone an attention or media whore is par for the Movement course. Leonard was attacked that way and so was Harvey Milk.] But the fact is that Dan became, through no fault of his own, the highest profile gay voice to end the ban that wasn’t totally co-opted by the Obama Administration the way SLDN and HRC had been. [Both groups wanted him to become a spokesperson for them AS LONG AS he only said what THEY wanted him to say.] NONE of them was willing to spend ONE MINUTE in jail to keep the fight for repeal in the news while Dan was arrested three times, the last along with myself and 11 others in November 2010 when the media was reporting that the repeal bill might be withdrawn even after the Repugs had just won the House of Representatives for the term starting January 2011 which would mean repeal was dead for AT LEAST another two years. It wasn’t just our opinion that Obama wasn’t doing enough…..a month AFTER our protest no less than Carl Levin the Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee told reporters the President wasn’t. And yet, ALL of Gay, Inc., looked the other way when Dan and the rest of us were, in the words of our federal judge, “selectively and vindictively prosecuted” by the Administration using a vague federal statute almost NEVER used against peaceful protestors.

    The author’s factual errors and historical omissions aside, he wrote me that he MEANT this as a sympathetic portrait of what sacrificing his military career and health had done to Dan, and I’m glad a kind soul such as yourself got that part. But, based on various comments I’ve read across the Net, response to his endless litany of Dan’s ALLEGED mistakes……Arana falsely indicts him as not just narcissistic but solipsistic, stopping just short of pop analyzing Dan’s stool sample and labeling it “smelly”….is dependent on what one’s preexisting attitude toward Dan was. MANY are reading it simply as “proof” that THEY were right all along about Dan being some kind of villain because fill-in-the-blank….which was FREQUENTLY driven by petty jealousy that THEY weren’t in the spotlight (leaders of SLDN raged against Dan both privately and publicly) and/or were the gullible outraged that he DARED criticize Their Lord & Savior Obama Christ. Even if that weren’t the case, it is incomprehensible to me that someone like Arana with his own history of emotional problems, including a brief stay on a psychiatric ward, a time he described as feeling like “a leper with no hope of a cure,” could imagine that publicly pouring a mountain of salt into someone else’s emotional wounds is a “good thing.” Knowing Dan far longer and far better than Arana, I’m confident he will prevail and prosper. But never was the saying more true: with “friends” like Arana who needs enemies?

  2. Billy Glover

    I should not be surprised that there is more to the story-I certainly have lived that at ONE. And I must say that even I would find it hard to write a balanced history of the issue of homosexuals and the military. So trying to give credit to those people and groups who along the way worked/contributed to end the discrimination is not easy-it is not easy for the black civil rights movement.

    I am sure some feel the Black Panthers deserve at least equal praise with Dr King and others a man named Houston who fought the legal battle for Brown-and now a tv documentary (Against the Tide) lays claim to a football game breaking the color line in Alabama-thus two football coaches deserve credit (and there is some merit to the claim when USC played Alabama in Alabama with black players for the first time).

    How did Congress and society and the military establishment finally get ready to accept open homosexuals? Where do we place controversial people like Senator Lieberman? Where Matlovich, where Choi? Will C-SPAN 20 years from now have a historian tell us that some secret person or agreement was the final cause? (Such a claim has been made now about 6 secret people who backed Washington to found the nation.)

    All I know is that I believe that ONE made a great contribution to our cause-not just Dorr or Don or Kepner, and they were successful when they worked together, no one of them getting credit or blame. It failed when one decided he was more “right” than the others — so Dorr cheated and destroyed the very work he devoted his life to..that is my background looking at what I got from the article.

  3. Victor Salvo

    Choi was used by the movement and told what they thought he needed to hear so he would appear as the perfect poster boy. He performed his role well but in the end, once his effectiveness had passed – either due to his own foibles or because the movement simply no longer needed him – he was kicked to the curb. Aranas’s article simply keeps kicking the guy while he is down, by once again turning him into a poster boy for the “Don’t Let This Happen To You” naysayers.

    I know very few LGBT activists who have given everything – body, mind, and soul – to the movement, who were not consumed and discarded. Most of them are alcoholics. Activism – regardless of the cause – is a one-sided affair. Few who slog it out in the trenches (as opposed to the cocktail soirees) get more out of it than they put into it. Choi is no exception.

    For every hack drawing six-figures to wield influence at our many fine, monied, citadels of power, there are 10,000 volunteers who will see little return for their unending – yet desperately needed – sacrifices. It is, sadly, the way of the world.

    Choi is a perfect example of a guy who thought he was doing the right thing, but failed to act to protect himself first. He had no experience and was probably too conflated to take anyone’s advice. LGBT activism is always pushing the envelope and guys like Choi are the leading edge – for a time – only to be set aside when time comes to push a new envelope. If he were a more self-serving type of guy he’d maybe have figured out a way to parlay his celebrity into a new gig. But he wasn’t that guy.

    I can only hope now that he finds a new life for himself and learns to make piece with what the movement and he did to each other. I am just so fearful -especially after reading that hateful article – that his story will end tragically.

  4. Billy Glover

    I agree. Maybe no media will do it, this article didn’t, but I would like to hear Choi say what he thinks about his life. He did deal with his sexuality- in a religious and then military context. Some of us are probably lucky we never got any fame. I did appear on 3 or 4 tv talk shows, and no one paid attention-I still doubt Regis Philbin, as he was rude to me. Choi is cute and slightly exotic. Troy Perry was really wild in that he was good looking and saying things about religion so again, that was “interesting,” where as talking seriously about homosexuality was not.

    But as I’ve said before, he is a generic issue-and my most important example was Truman, who was the most important human being and then suddenly, got on a train, returned to Independence, and was ignored mostly almost till his death. But at least now he is getting recognition. But how could he have adjusted from fame and constant activity to a quiet, silent life???

    Truman didn’t get rich, making speeches, as presidents do today. Harry Hay did not get rich. Frank Kameny, nor Don, Dorr, Kepner, Gittings, Grier, et al., did not get rich, but they never doubted their work and value.

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