Openly Gay Lt. Reflects on Former Service

Standing in front of a packed Science Center lecture hall last night, Army First Lieutenant Daniel Choi burned the letter he received from the U.S. Army telling him he must leave the military after publicly coming out as gay on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” in March.

Since receiving the notification from the Army, Choi has made it his mission to attack the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on a “moral basis.”

“Before I learned how to salute, march in step, execute commands, and before I received a single push up for executing them incorrectly, I learned the honor code, that a cadet should not lie,” Choi said. “I break the rules of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ because ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ breaks the rules of integrity.”

Choi, who has taken classes at the Harvard Extension School, spoke after receiving the first annual Service to Humanity award from the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, an honor bestowed on a Harvard student who has shown leadership in ethical service to others.

During his speech and the question-and-answer session that followed, Choi went from cracking jokes about being mentioned on the Daily Show to passionately demanding that Democratic politicians act on the desires of the gay community.

A California native and the son of a Southern Baptist minister, Choi got his start in the military as an Arabic and environmental engineering major at West Point, where he received his degree in 2003. Choi later helped found Knights Out, an LGBT support group for West Point graduates.

Choi served as an Arabic linguist in Iraq in 2006 and 2007 before transferring to the New York National Guard in June 2008.

Harvard Humanist Chaplain Greg M. Epstein said he hoped Harvard students would pay attention to the “selflessness” Choi has shown in standing up not only for himself, but for others who are or will be faced with similar situations, despite the effect it has had on his professional life.

“He simply asked for an opportunity to [serve in the military] with equality and honesty and was denied that opportunity,” Epstein said in an interview.

Choi, who chose to fight his removal from the military rather than resign, said he does not yet know what type of military discharge he will receive, but he has already begun to prepare for potential appeals.

In an interview with The Crimson before the event, Choi said he appreciated the stance Harvard has taken in not allowing the Reserve Officer Training Corps on campus because of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

“The fact that Harvard believes in non-discrimination and puts ethics and morals before funding brings great credit for what Harvard stands for,” Choi said. “When I heard that Harvard had taken that step, I felt a lot of empathy. Harvard is a friend.”

—Staff writer Lauren D. Kiel can be reached at lkiel@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Margherita Pignatelli can be reached at mpignat@fas.harvard.edu.