Lt. Dan Choi spoke at Cal State Northridge Tuesday night for National Coming Out Day. Wow. Wow. Wow. His speech took us from the Triangle of Death in Iraq to his parents’ home in Orange County, California and back again, through his falling in love for the first time at age 27 to his split with his Southern Baptist parents; heart wrenching stories, witty asides, skillful humor and pop culture references aligned alongside the poetry of al-Mutanabbi and quotations from the Bible and Christian scholars, giving the audience a full look at Dan’s life during and after his coming out, his experiences under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and since its repeal, as well as orating with beauty and grace the reasons for coming out as LGBT. Or as a straight ally.
I was typing as fast as could–no video was allowed, though CSPAN did record the event. The president of CSUN’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Alliance, Hugo Valencia introduced Lt. Choi. A private first class in the National Guard who joined at 17, Hugo who stood proudly on stage last night in his uniform, came out when DADT was repealed.
Lt Choi began his speech by telling us that he was proud to stand before us in his uniform
to tell all of you this uniform is now the uniform of all Americans.
He also honored the memory of activist Frank Kameny, who served in World War II and led the fight for gay rights since the early 1960s, who died yesterday, but lived to see the repeal of DADT.
Lt. Choi’s wry exhortation to the non-LGBT in the audience was met with laughter and applause:
It’s is time for all you straight people to come out as allies. Gays wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for heterosexuals. You literally gave birth to us!
Lt. Choi’s skill as an orator and his roots in the Southern Baptist Church (his father is a minister who started several congregations and worked as missionary) shone as he took us through the six months he spent living with his parents after coming out, his father repeatedly telling him that homosexuality was the number one sin. Lt. Choi countered with:
Love they neighbor as thyself. Love they neighbor as you love yourself. Gay people are blessed to be able to show how important love is…
Honor thy father and mother, honor them by telling them the truth, do not bear false witness…I am not going to let someone I love die being a homophobe. Love them to teach them. Under all that hatred is a loving spirit.
Lt. Choi then lead us in a powerful call and response:
I am somebody! I am somebody! I am somebody! I deserve full equality! Now!
and referenced the Occupy movement as an example of people who are standing up and saying
I am somebody!
After his speech, Lt. Choi took questions from the audience, responding to one
Prince William invited his best friend from his unit to his wedding. His best friend who is transgendered and undergoing gender reassignment paid for by the British armed forces…I am queer inclusive. That is what America fights for, freedom and justice. Yes, I am a queer activist. I learned as an activist why I fought. These skills are transferable. My being a soldier has made me a better activist, and my being an activist has made me a better soldier.
At the reception afterwards, Lt. Choi spoke with students and faculty members, posed for photos with veterans and active members who attend CSUN, as well as with members of Gamma Rho Lambda, the campus’ queer sorority.
This was one of the most inspirational and profound speeches I have ever heard. As soon as I get the link from CSPAN I will post it up.
Photo 1 courtesy of PFC Hugo Valencia, photos 2 & 6: John Saringo, CSUN