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June 29th, 2009
06:03 AM ET

Gay soldier: Don't fire me

Editor’s note: Lt. Daniel Choi is a founding member of Knights Out, an organization of out Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) West Point Alumni. An estimated 65,000 LGBT Americans serve in the armed forces. The views expressed here are Dan Choi’s personal views and not those of the Department of Defense or the Department of the Army.

Lt. Daniel Choi is an Iraq combat veteran and a West Point graduate with a degree in Arabic.

Lt. Daniel Choi is an Iraq combat veteran and a West Point graduate with a degree in Arabic.

By Lt. Daniel Choi
Special to CNN

Open Letter to President Obama and Every Member of Congress:

I have learned many lessons in the ten years since I first raised my right hand at the United States Military Academy at West Point and committed to fighting for my country. The lessons of courage, integrity, honesty and selfless service are some of the most important.

At West Point, I recited the Cadet Prayer every Sunday. It taught us to "choose the harder right over the easier wrong" and to "never be content with a half truth when the whole can be won." The Cadet Honor Code demanded truthfulness and honesty. It imposed a zero-tolerance policy against deception, or hiding behind comfort.

Following the Honor Code never bowed to comfortable timing or popularity. Honor and integrity are 24-hour values. That is why I refuse to lie about my identity.

I have personally served for a decade under Don't Ask, Don't Tell: an immoral law and policy that forces American soldiers to deceive and lie about their sexual orientation. Worse, it forces others to tolerate deception and lying. These values are completely opposed to anything I learned at West Point. Deception and lies poison a unit and cripple a fighting force.

As an infantry officer, an Iraq combat veteran and a West Point graduate with a degree in Arabic, I refuse to lie to my commanders. I refuse to lie to my peers. I refuse to lie to my subordinates. I demand honesty and courage from my soldiers. They should demand the same from me.

I am committed to applying the leadership lessons I learned at West Point. With 60 other LGBT West Point graduates, I helped form our organization, Knights Out, to fight for the repeal of this discriminatory law and educate cadets and soldiers after the repeal occurs. When I receive emails from deployed soldiers and veterans who feel isolated, alone, and even suicidal because the torment of rejection and discrimination, I remember my leadership training: soldiers cannot feel alone, especially in combat. Leaders must reach out. They can never diminish the fighting spirit of a soldier by tolerating discrimination and isolation. Leaders respect the honor of service. Respecting each soldier’s service is my personal promise.

The Department of the Army sent a letter discharging me on April 23rd. I will not lie to you; the letter is a slap in the face. It is a slap in the face to me. It is a slap in the face to my soldiers, peers and leaders who have demonstrated that an infantry unit can be professional enough to accept diversity, to accept capable leaders, to accept skilled soldiers.

My subordinates know I'm gay. They don't care. They are professional.

Further, they are respectable infantrymen who work as a team. Many told me that they respect me even more because I trusted them enough to let them know the truth. Trust is the foundation of unit cohesion.

After I publicly announced that I am gay, I reported for training and led rifle marksmanship. I ordered hundreds of soldiers to fire live rounds and qualify on their weapons. I qualified on my own weapon. I showered after training and slept in an open bay with 40 other infantrymen. I cannot understand the claim that I "negatively affected good order and discipline in the New York Army National Guard." I refuse to accept this statement as true.

As an infantry officer, I am not accustomed to begging. But I beg you today: Do not fire me. Do not fire me because my soldiers are more than a unit or a fighting force – we are a family and we support each other. We should not learn that honesty and courage leads to punishment and insult. Their professionalism should not be rewarded with losing their leader. I understand if you must fire me, but please do not discredit and insult my soldiers for their professionalism.

When I was commissioned I was told that I serve at the pleasure of the President. I hope I have not displeased anyone by my honesty. I love my job. I want to deploy and continue to serve with the unit I respect and admire. I want to continue to serve our country because of everything it stands for.

Please do not wait to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Please do not fire me.

Very Respectfully,

Daniel W. Choi
1LT, IN
New York Army National Guard


Filed under: Commentary • Gay Rights • Military
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Gay female Commander, ARMY

    For all you homophobics who have never registered to vote, let alone serve your country in the Guard, Reserves, or as an Active Cp mponent I say this: We serve our country proudly & with dignity, integrity and without question. What have you done for your country? I am proud to wear my uniform. I am proud that I graduated from Officer Candidate School, worked hard to maintain a civilian education as well as military requirements to be promoted. As a woman it was not easy for discrimination is very much alive in the military as more problems are caused by heterosexual men than gay people. Where would our country be without honorable soldiers as 1LT Daniel Choi? Most of you could not pass the rigorous training as an enlisted person, let alone what we Officers do as leaders.
    I have served with many gay soldiers and admire them for their wilingness to wear the uniform knowing this ridiculous law could force them out of the military.

    July 1, 2009 at 1:53 pm |
  2. Neil

    Alison and her husband (assume if she has a husband, it outs them) should be stripped of any Government metals or pensions. They don't deserve them, they are Un-American. I don't want my tax $$$ to support their attitudes. Stop harassing gays, its not fair. Drop Don't ask don't tell.

    June 30, 2009 at 10:02 am |
  3. Ralph T

    He should have kept quiet. Now that he is out of the closet he will be totally ineffective as a military leader. Why you ask? Because his subordinates will use this to destroy him. It will be a constant battle for him. I am a straight white male and served 20-years in the U.S. Army and I have seen all types of situations. I do not care what sexual preferences a person has as long as they keep them private.

    June 30, 2009 at 9:48 am |
  4. Bernice

    The military does not want them in... They claim that alot of of men and women would leave the military. I can honestly see where it COULD & WOULD cause huge problems and steeper costs to financiall fix the problems to make it work!! Personally though, I hope this never happens to our military! I feel bad for anyone having to shower and feel uncomfortable doing so! There are soooo many other reasons also, but what is the point! It should be permanently banned! My family was military! They would have quit the military if it would have happened while they served! I would not have blamed them! Not as many people will sign up to serve and it could force open the draft! BAN IT to begin with!

    June 30, 2009 at 9:04 am |
  5. Pete

    Surprised at the number of homophobic comments.Surprised these folks are watching CNN instead of that other news network.

    June 30, 2009 at 2:38 am |
  6. Randy

    Regarding Alison's post, where she questions if the soldier in question would need to announce to his fellow-soldiers that he was straight, the answer is straight people "announce" they are straight all the time - when they introduce their spouse, keep family pictures on their desk or locker, wear a gold wedding band, etc. These are all things straight people take for granted. And speaking as a gay man regarding Alison's suggestion that it's a choice, it's about as much of a choice as being right- or left-handed. Did you "choose" to be straight? No – you were simply lucky enought to fall in love with your husband and "chose" to get married. And stop worrying that some lesbian is going to look at your butt in the shower. It's presumptuous that you have a butt worth admiring. It's an exhausting argument.

    June 29, 2009 at 5:42 pm |
  7. dan in Tucson AZ

    I really never got the gay hating thing. This is like ostracizing someone because they are of a different race or religion. I think the military macho men need to grow up and get their act together. We are all Americans.

    June 29, 2009 at 11:01 am |
  8. Alison

    What I don't understand, is why is this even an issue? If he was straight, would he announce that to his soldiers also? I did my time in the Army, my husband has done 15 years so far in the Marine Corps, and we have discussed this issue on numerous occasions and have come to the same conclusion. There are those who want to put the rights of homosexuals in the military on par with African Americans being allowed to serve in the military. The problem is this- until a definitive study proving the homosexuality is predetermined from birth, and not something that is a choice, we cannot force our military fighting forces to accept it. Discriminating against someone because of their ethnicity, or because of a handicap is obviously wrong, because it is something a person has no control over. However, homosexuality is something that (depending on what studies you read) people do have control over.

    The biggest problem with letting homosexuals openly serve in the military is berthing issues. Anyone who has ever been in the barracks knows what I mean. They are filled to capacity in most cases. If a service member is allowed to be openly homosexual, they would have to have their own room, as the UCMJ prohibits sexual relations in military barracks. They can't be with another gay service member, you couldn't put a gay male and a lesbian in the same room, because then you would have people lying and saying they were homosexual just to be put in a room with someone of the opposite sex, and 2 lesbians or gay men couldn't room together either. Imagine this- you have just graduated boot camp, and arrive at your first duty station where you are put in a room with 2 or 3 other recent graduates. This is normal. However, in the room next to you is a homosexual service member who gets the privacy of their own room simply because of a decision they have made to be homosexual. It is simply not fair to anyone involved, it does not help unit cohesion to know the sexual preferences of everyone in the unit, and it does not promote fair and equal treatment to all.

    People cannot be forced to accept something that another person has chosen to do.

    June 29, 2009 at 10:41 am |
  9. Lori

    I have been in since 2000. I have watched service members pretend they were gay so they could get out of their contract. And I have served with those that were blatanly gay. Do I care? Not really. But one of the lines that bother me is this, "As an infantry officer, I am not accustomed to begging. But I beg you today:"

    What that says to me, is that because he's an officer, he expects to make some headway. He ASSUMES that just because he's an officer that he should get what he wants. I have NEVER agreed with that. We all signed the same oath. But it seems that you have to be commissioned to get what you need and/or deserve. In all honesty, I hope he does get canned. If it hade really mattered, he'd of done this 10 years ago.

    June 29, 2009 at 10:26 am |
  10. Carlos

    It is so sad to be censored and only the favorable be posted.
    I can see why FoxNews and CBSNews are the best place to see what the real world thinks.
    You at CNN cannot stand the truth.

    June 29, 2009 at 10:26 am |
  11. Mr. Oak

    Lt. Choi:

    As a hetro-sexual US Navy veteran, I served with a number of sailors that were gay. I even shared a townhouse in Jacksonville, Fl with one gay shipmate, who was related by marriage to my original roommate.

    The content of one's character should by far outweigh the sexual orientation of said person. I have crossed paths with shiploads of hetro-sexual men who are unfit to serve in the military. Likewise, there are gay men and women who are not fit to serve. That said, one should NOT be disqualified solely because of their sexual orientation.

    The stupidity of this argument is that some of the people that made the decision to discharge you, are themselves quite GAY. I remember one shipmate who was assigned to Pentagon prior to being transferred to my ship. His transfer was punishment for being caught (off-post) in a compromising "situation" with a high ranking admiral also stationed at the Pentagon.

    President Obama: As someone who is one of your staunchest supporters, I am woefully disappointed at your unwillingness to address this situation.

    I believe that all FLAMES should be unceremoniously kicked out of the military. (p.s.: Not all gays are FLAMES).

    I don't believe there should EVER be gay pride parades held on military bases.

    I also believe that gays who serve in the military with HONOR and respect for the institution, should be allowed to do so with DIGNITY.

    Respectfully:

    Mr. Oak

    June 29, 2009 at 9:34 am |
  12. Eloisa Francis

    My daughter LOVED THE AIRFORCE but painstakenly walked away after 6 years at travis AFB, precisely because of the fear of receiving one of these 'letters.' She is one of the thousands, I'm sure, who took the 'low road' by walking away. She continues to want nothing more than to serve. Why MUST we always discriminate against some faction of society? I BEG you, Mr. president. Repeal the ridiculous 'Dont Ask Don't Tell' policy. Our military is going to be left with a bunch of self-centered, judgmental, homophibic commanders. I wonder, after getting rid of all gays, who will be next?

    Eloisa

    June 29, 2009 at 9:17 am |
  13. donna

    This letter states the issue as clearly as it can get as to why discrimination against anyone, especially enlisted citizens is beyond comprehension and so completely absurd. Surely the government does not believe these talented and dedicated individuals somehow are worth less to our national effort because they are honest about being gay? Times have change and keep changing. This country is way to uptight about this issue of gay rights/discrimination. Wake up and look around. Talent and courage are valuable qualities, not found in everyone..and needed by our military and every other American industry... no matter what its color!

    June 29, 2009 at 9:16 am |
  14. Robert Keister, II

    I understand your very well worded letter to the President. I have hounded the White House and President Obama (by emails) to repeal DADT law. We are brothers here not because I'm gay also, but because Obama has turned his back upon his promise. Does he not realize that 1 out of 7 of us is GAY, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual or transgendered? Obama is ill-informed. I wonder how he would feel if he were asked to change his sexual orientation? Could he do it? WE KNOW HE COULDN'T! Or asked not to tell that he was a closet heterosexual. At 61 and blessed by an excellent relationship and married in the Church, I share your plight! I really admire you and know that I and others are with you during your testimony!!!!! I voted for Obama once, but never again as I have constantly reminded the President and The White House.

    God is with you!

    Namaste!

    Bob

    June 29, 2009 at 9:09 am |
  15. lisa from TN

    John roberts just told and out and out lie during his interview with Choi. He stated that the President failed to live up to his promise to repeal DADT. The president said it was not fair and he would WORK for equal rights but NEVER promised. He can't promise such a thing because it takes the CONGRESS and SENATE to propose legislation,.

    John Roberts is a liar who is uniformed and ignorant to the workings of our government and should be taken off the air.

    June 29, 2009 at 9:01 am |
  16. P. Edward Murray

    When is enough , "enough"?

    This guy has had his "15 minutes of fame" and may lose his job because of it...

    Instead of "crying about what he can't have" why isn't he just doing his job?

    Know what?

    I'm beginning to get the impression that everyone who is gay has a job?

    June 29, 2009 at 8:43 am |
  17. Madelyn

    I can't beleive this is still going on. Also why is it always gay men you hear about. I've personally never heard of gay women going through this. Not that they should. I don't think wether a man or woman is gay should matter on them being able to be in the military.

    June 29, 2009 at 8:40 am |
  18. Maggie Leffler

    RE: LT Choi

    If he's a 2003 USMA grad, why is he still a Lt? Was he not promoted to Capt. because he is gay or because of some other reason? I'm not sure we're being given the full story.

    June 29, 2009 at 8:40 am |