Dan Choi | Don't Ask, Don't Tell | Rachel Maddow

Naked: An EXCLUSIVE Interview with Gay Hero Daniel Choi


When President Obama took office, he did so with the high expectations of his supporters in the LGBT 10182008obama_stonewall_poster community...and with the equally low expectations of his detractors among us. While the acknowledgment he has given to our issues may have surpassed that of previous presidents, it's fallen short (so far) of satisfying any of his major LGBT campaign promises. Worse, a number of questionable signals have been sent, the most controversial being the Department of Justice memo on same-sex marriage, which has been widely interpreted to compare marriage equality with incest in its defense of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Perhaps most surprisingly, President Obama has shown a troubling lack of resolve in repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell—he insists it is something he wants gone, but also insists that it be done via a bill that arrives on his desk from Congress, refusing to exercise his apparent authority as Commander-in-Chief to put a stop to any expulsions while the law is being reviewed and eventually, we presume, rescinded.

If it sometimes feels like you're either a Kool-Aid drinking apologist about to be excommunicated from the LGBT ranks (a literal ex-gay) or a histrionic, tantrum-throwing child with no regard for the president's full plate—you're not alone. The middle ground is rapidly disappearing.

PH2009062903402 As a big supporter of President Obama's (full disclosure: I've cut off the DNC but would have attended the Stonewall event), I've been disappointed by and at times angered over his inactivity on gay issues. It's not that I don't have patience, but when he is taking a passive approach to even a slam-dunk issue like Don't Ask, Don't Tell, it's impossible for any thinking person not to begin to worry that all those anonymous, seething Internet commenters claiming that Obama will be all talk and no action will have the last laugh. It doesn't matter if the more far-fetched accusations of the LGBT people who despise this president the most ("he's a lying closet bigot who hates us!"), those whose vehemence, if not related to, certainly matches that of the right-wing birthers and conspiracy theorists and racists, are never proven true.

But what will matter to all of us is if the president fails to make progress on our issues, because that will be not only his failure, it will be ours if we allow it to happen.

Danchoi Speaking to Daniel Choi—the now-famous Arab linguist and Iraq War veteran with a distinguished career in the New York Army National Guard who on June 30 was recommended for discharge after coming out as gay earlier this year on The Rachel Maddow Show—it is very hard to think in terms of pro-Obama or anti-Obama. His approach to the DADT issue is as pure as it gets and does not take politics into consideration.

For Dan, it's simply about telling the truth.

When I first called him, I was a bit nervous. I don't know too many army guys and this one has become a gay hero for bucking a wildly unpopular policy and a wildly popular president, all in the name of what is right. The first thing he told me is that he was naked, which broke the ice (shattered it, really), but which later seemed so appropriate to me even if it was a joke, because at no time during our interview did I get the impression that he was feeding me talking points or that he had any agenda outside of the one that all of us, the nutty Obama lovers and the nutty Obama haters, should embrace come what may: It's wrong to discriminate against LGBT people, and it has to stop.


With a grace the Obama haters should study, a resolve the Obama lovers should adopt and with a surprising sense of humor, Dan spent just over 40 minutes making nothing but sense.

I've uploaded my interview to YouTube in 18 separate files so you can hear Dan in his own voice as I heard him earlier today. He tells a great story about coming out to his West Point roommate, stresses he's coming out "for the next guy," says he's not angry at the military, wonders aloud where he's going to live and speaks of how his first real relationship taught him the importance of doing what he's been doing for the past several months.

All of Matthew Rettenmund's interview after the jump...

1 What drew you to a career in the military?

2 Did 9/11 strengthen your resolve to serve?

3 Dan's emphasis: The truth.

4 Why is it important for gay people to be honest about who they are?

5 How do you react to being called a hero?

6 Son of a minister, Asian-American, military...not a recipe for an easy coming-out?

7 Why would a gay person join the military under DADT?

8 You had a religious upbringing...what do you tell religious, anti-gay people?

9 Do you mind my asking if you voted for President Obama?

10 How do you react to the "let's give it time" argument?

11 Where are YOU with this president right now?

12 What did you think of the White House Stonewall event?

13 "We're going to get this done"...encouraging, or hollow?

14 How does DADT hurt military preparedness?

15 What did you make of Defense Secretary Gates's "humane" DADT comment?

16 Is there a "generational gap" in the military brass?

17 Have you considered running for office?

18 Does your "heartthrob" status give you helpful visibility?

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  1. "With a grace the Obama haters should study, a resolve the Obama lovers should adopt and with a surprising sense of humor, Dan spent just over 40 minutes making nothing but sense."


    Posted by: Kugel | Jul 10, 2009 8:31:52 PM

  2. Great interview...incredibly inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing this with the rest of us.

    Posted by: Sean-Z | Jul 10, 2009 8:40:36 PM

  3. Not just a gay hero . . . he's an American hero.

    Posted by: Patrick | Jul 10, 2009 10:50:32 PM

  4. I support Dan 100%! He is a hero is every sense and such an inspiration.

    Posted by: Bill | Jul 10, 2009 11:01:44 PM

  5. I'm so happy you chose Rachel Maddow's show to make your announcement of "You're not asking, but I'm telling"! Solidarity in any minority community is important!

    Thank you Dan, for your service and your integrity....


    Posted by: bobncastro | Jul 11, 2009 3:27:44 AM

  6. I enjoyed hearing from Dan Choi. But your attempt at impartiality was thinly veiled, at best. Those who have called out Obama consistently are made out as being only concerned about getting the "last laugh". That's the problem, Obama supporters just REFUSE to admit that they were wrong. When people in the gay community spoke out against Obama (Donnie McClurkin comes to mind) so many of the Obama supporters not only turned a blind eye, they actively attacked anyone who pointed out the obvious bigotry that was being promoted by the Obama administration! And the same thing happened when Obama was going on his "Faith Tours" in Cali with "Yes on Prop 8" supporters as speakers for the tour! Anyone who spoke against him was called a racist, or a gay traiter, or worse. Yet here we are, Obama has backtracked and betrayed every single promise to the LGBT community, with the DOMA brief he is literally working against us! Yet you are still trying to characterize those who call Obama out on his bigotry as petty people just wanting to get the last laugh.

    Before you blame the people who have been warning against Obama's B.S. from the beginning, maybe its time to look to your own culpability for the backstabber we now have in office.

    Posted by: Wayne | Jul 11, 2009 6:44:37 AM

  7. keep it up!!!

    Posted by: x-guy | Jul 11, 2009 8:06:11 AM

  8. Wayne : So many gays invested so much of themselves, emotionally, in Obama being the new day savior- as opposed to the villain Bush- that they're having a hard time admitting the truth, probably, for a whole slew of reasons: from feeling intense disappointment to just being abashed that they were such public suckers. I've noticed how many gay bloggers made every other post about Obama up to the election last November, and now they just hide from the whole subject. Maybe that's one good thing to come out of this- gays will mature a little and be more realistic in the future.

    Posted by: JT | Jul 11, 2009 8:58:18 AM

  9. Obama supporters have to admit they're wrong when his term is over and nothing has been done. Until then, there is only speculation as to what might happen. Calling the President out is good; calling him a bigot is a) factually incorrect, since its clear that he supports and has almost always supported equal rights for the LGBT community b) ignoring reality, since he is President for at least four years, likely eight. Refusing to work with him at all out of some unconstructive sense of self-righteousness is not helpful, nor will it help you achieve any of your goals. Obama is unquestionably a political opportunist, and has deliberately shifted the political burden away from the Executive, because that's what every politician who's been in his place has done. Things would be no different under Clinton; hell, Clinton wouldn't even be there, since she would have lost to McCain in the election.

    Posted by: Zach | Jul 11, 2009 9:01:20 AM

  10. A very disappointing president and administration.

    Posted by: Roseanne | Jul 11, 2009 10:18:51 AM

  11. Well said, Zach. Thank you.

    By the way Wayne, what about the "obvious bigotry" that was spouted by the gay "community" (particularly in these threads)about Blacks during the Prop 8 debacle? How about the fact that the gay "community" (or Towleroad) has still not called out Dan Savage for his racist pandering during that time, which Savage has steadfastedly refused to recant or apologize for? If you want to talk about bigotry and two-facedness, look in your own backyard before you reach for the first stone.

    Posted by: Q | Jul 11, 2009 10:20:15 AM

  12. Wayne, your comments smell too much like a Hillary supporter who somehow thinks she would have taken a different path right now in office. And she wouldn't have. At all. Take a pill.

    Posted by: Billy | Jul 11, 2009 10:30:02 AM

  13. Zach discusses speculation, yet assumes Clinton would have lost. Thanks for pulling the rug out from under any argument you were attempting to make there. In any case, the Department that Clinton heads certainly took very little time getting the inequities in that particular department rectified for gays and lesbians. That is not speculation.

    I was a Clinton supporter, but voted for Obama when the time came to get behind our candidate and avidly supported him, in fact convincing my republican leaning parents to vote for him. I was and am, in no way, hoping he will fail. But I do think he is failing in regards to the promises made to gays and lesbians during the primaries. He certainly can pound his fist and tell Congress to get him a bill on the stimulus package or on bailouts or on healthcare. But somehow he sits on those hands and says, I am waiting for Congress to bring me a bill on DADT. So be it. I do think Congress should be getting as much of our anger and outrage as Obama is, but I understand it is easier to focus on the individual in the White House and certainly he's doing the least possible to fulfill his word.

    Frankly I think it is pointless because I believe and I believe he believes that even if he does nothing, when the time comes in 2012, the gays will do what they do every election, rally behind the party because as angry as we get at the Democrats for failing to do...anything...we will still vote/support them over the Republican, for obvious reasons. We're like abused puppy dogs who always pull their tails between their legs and go whimpering back to the owner who smacked us. Until we grow a set, nothing will change.

    Posted by: Alex | Jul 11, 2009 10:30:04 AM

  14. I agree, ALEX! I certainly think Obama made a
    lot of noise on DADT in the earlier days, or at least gestures that it was "inequality" for LGBT groups, and needed "rightous fixing". or so to speak. I am truly saddened with Obama's performance in many arenas. He does have big hands to sit on, doesn't he? Certainly, in this case - less is NOT more!

    Posted by: Llazlo | Jul 11, 2009 10:53:04 AM

  15. You all crack me up.

    Posted by: Vi Agara | Jul 11, 2009 11:26:33 AM

  16. Question: If a well-known gay prostitute like Matt Sanchez can serve in the military, why can't an honorable gay man like Lt. Choi?

    In 2007 the military launched a formal investigation into allegations that Sanchez was a gay porn star and a gay prostitute. In fact, Sanchez did appear in gay porn videos in the 1990s as Rod Majors (or sometimes Pierre LaBranche). Proof of this is easy to find. And he advertised his services as a $300 an hour male escort as recently as 2002. This "signed" copy of his escort site proves it.


    His full legal name, Matthew Sanchez, appears in the meta tags. Other pages from his gay escort site have been preserved at archive.org.

    In spite of all this evidence the military wrapped its investigation without taking any punitive actions against Sanchez, who now works for the Fox News Channel.

    In recent years Sanchez's opposition to gay rights and his support for DADT has only become more shrill. Ironically, Sanchez's enlistment and his continued assoication with the military as an embedded journalist only proves the stupidity and hyporcrisy of DADT.

    Posted by: ritchie | Jul 11, 2009 11:28:01 AM

  17. Matthew Rettenmund's attempt to slime all the angry critics of Obama on the blogs as "Obama Haters" and lumping them in with the right-wing racists and conspiracy theorists is way off the mark. I'm pretty sure, based on my posts, that he would categorize me as an "Obama Hater" but I loved him during the campaign and in his first few months of office. All I expect of him is that he act on HIS PROMISES to us and, if he does, I will go right back to loving him. That is something that will never happen with the right-wingers. Indeed, the more he fulfills his campaign promises, the angrier they will get.
    That is an extremely important distinction.

    Posted by: Jefffrey | Jul 11, 2009 12:43:09 PM

  18. cool. tell him to get a new speech though...seen him twice and the same damn speech every time.

    Now, I agree that we should be treated equally and if someone wants to go in the army or navy they should have the same DAMN rights as the rest.

    OBAMA has done right and he has alot on his plates...GIVE HIM A BRAKE people...I didn't see you during the Bush administration whinning about it...SO WHY NOW?
    OBAMA can't blink and make it all vanish away on a snap of a finger...I STAND by him, because he hasn't done nothign wrong. it seems like there are a conservative group with in the LGBT community, I won't fall for this. THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK>

    Posted by: Bosie | Jul 11, 2009 12:50:12 PM

  19. Lt. Choi is a true hero, no dobut.

    But WAYNE nailed it perfectly regarding Rettenmund's thinly-veiled seething bitterness towards anyone who would dare to question Dear Leader's intentions. The honeymoon is over. No more sweet nothings whispered in our ears. Time to shit or get off the pot. This goes for Barney Frank and the rest of the beltway Dem's as well.

    Posted by: BradK | Jul 11, 2009 1:33:53 PM

  20. As a gay veteran and a senior citien, I really admire Dan Choi. We have been first class soldiers living a second and third class life in the military (as well as in our civilian lives). As for Obama, he is a phony and a liar. And yes, I fell for for his rhetoric hook, line, and sinker, including too many donations. One has only to look at the DOJ brief he submitted on same sex marriage to see how he really feels about us. I guess it just hurts so much when you believed in someone that let you down so terribly.

    Posted by: Mike Pickett | Jul 11, 2009 1:50:46 PM

  21. I think those who are now saying my piece had thinly-veiled anything are so hate-addled at this point Obama could suck a white cock in the town square and they'd still say, "...but he didn't look like he ENJOYED it."

    I didn't write the piece as an objective journalist; I was very explicit in where I was coming from. I supported and support Obama, I'm still very happy he's president (and when compared to the other possibility—not Hillary, who would have been every bit as inconveniently "practical," but who I'd be defending in the same way if she were, but McCain—my happiness is even greater), but I'm very annoyed with his poor handling of gay issues.

    There's zero good reason for him not to stop expulsions right now, punting on DADT is wimpy at best and even though I think it's ridiculous to point to the DOJ memo as if it's Obama's personal diary, it's also ridiculous to act like he could not have come out IMMEDIATELY thereafter and apologized for it (and of course he should have been on top of what that memo was going to be and do to begin with).

    My impression is that he had decided to put gay issues on the back burner and, well, he got burned. Had he told the community of his plans, how and when he intended to attack various issues, I think that would have made all the difference to most.

    But some of the people who are angriest at Obama—so angry that they behave as if anyone who isn't right there with them ready to never support a Democrat again is some kind of traitor or fool or brainwashed zombie—really make a great case for not giving us any rights to begin with. It's been at this pitch from Day One, and it started with this overzealous resentment that he won and went downhill from there. The discourse is nonexistent. It's just a seething hatred. It's hilarious that BradK would say I had "thinly-veiled seething bitterness" in the piece that I wrote. I'll put that piece against the cranky rants of the O-haters any day.

    I have zero bitterness toward anyone who questions Obama on any issue—I have questioned him on gay issues—but when you're coming at me with he's my "Dear Leader" and "the One," etc., I can't take you seriously as a thinker. Your entire goal is to needle the people who you see as being your enemies, to depersonalize us. That's already a stupid way to get anything done, but what's stupider is that gay people who don't hate Obama as much as you do are not your enemies. We're all on the same side. Your real enemies are the people who are passionately anti-gay. If anything, the LGBT people who don't even care about politics should be more annoying to you than the ones who are betting Obama will follow through on his promises.

    I got a nice note from Dan after our talk. This is a person who has more right than most to get steamed about DADT and he couldn't be more gracious. He shook the hand of Mullen and says he still respects the Army. He's a Christian (which most of the O-haters would despise in anyone else, since most have a fantasy that Obama is closet Evangelical) and he has dealt with Christian homophobes, talked to them, reached out.

    If you think he's such a hero, follow his example because nobody ever got anywhere simply blowing his top and gunning down potential friends.

    PS Jefffree: I'm not sure because I don't have your posts handy, but I doubt you're a real O-hater and no, his tough critics are not simple haters. I made the comparison because the people I have in mind revile Obama so irretrievably, all they can do is talk about how he's a bigoted Christian while using racial rhetoric like calling him a "street hustler from Chicago." There absolutely is a connection between those people and the right-wing nuts—the same language is used, the same "Oh, the Great Leader" nonsense. I honestly think that were it not for gay issues a large number of the most hotheaded gay activists out there would BE those wingnuts.

    If he continues to fuck up on gay issues, never accomplishes his promises to us, etc., I will be bitter, but I will be pointing out those failures. I really don't believe that his craziest haters would ever come around to him if he did the opposite.

    Posted by: Matthew Rettenmund | Jul 11, 2009 3:01:06 PM

  22. "Your real enemies are the people who are passionately anti-gay"

    I agree. I also think those who would actively use passionately anti-gay bigots (Donnie McClurkin) to help further their campaign, is worse than a bigot. But for those who remain silent or only talk of action and garner little to no actual results, I would remind them of Dr. King's words:

    "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

    Posted by: Wayne | Jul 11, 2009 3:24:20 PM

  23. ps. I'll give a bit of full disclosure as well. I'm Ex-Army. Full Tour of Duty (Suspected and investigated as a possible homosexual three years before DADT - fun times)

    Posted by: Wayne | Jul 11, 2009 3:39:42 PM

  24. "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." MLK

    This sums it up best. Thank you Wayne.

    Posted by: chgohunt | Jul 11, 2009 3:49:29 PM

  25. "That's the problem, Obama supporters just REFUSE to admit that they were wrong."

    Wrong how, Wayne? Because Obama hasn't fulfilled his promises to the gay community within his first few months in office? That presumes that all Obama supporters expected him to. Given the economy, the wars, and trying to do something on healthcare, it doesn't surprise me at all that DADT isn't at the top of his agenda. Which doesn't mean that I am not behind Daniel Choi or critical of Obama's obvious and offensive missteps on gay issues. The idea that we should "admit" we are wrong also presumes that we voted for Obama only on gay issues and that our approval/disapproval of him rests entirely on those issues. Many of us care about a whole host of things, gay issues one of those things. I would never admit I am wrong for voting for Obama, because I don't regret that I did. That doesn't preclude keeping the pressure on and taking him to task when he fucks up. Finally, who cares who was right or wrong in the voting both? That ISN'T the problem. It's a distraction. He is the president we have for 3 more years, and it's in our best interest to work with him and with our current Congress. Some of us who have supposedly drunk the Kool-Aid have been around the block enough times to know better than to accept a beverage from any politician.

    Cheers to Daniel Choi for continuing to speak out and make a difference.

    Posted by: Ernie | Jul 11, 2009 4:27:21 PM

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