When Lt. Dan Choi was approached by a producer for MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show in March, he wasn't exactly keen on becoming the newest face of "don't ask, don't tell," the U.S. military's long-standing ban on openly gay service members. The 28-year-old Iraq War veteran and Arabic language specialist had just cofounded Knights Out, an organization of gay students and alumni from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point dedicated to ending the Pentagon's antigay policy, and Maddow wanted to do a segment on the group. "I was like, 'No, I don't really want to, I think somebody else should do it,'" he recalls, and suggested retired vets instead.
His reluctance was understandable: Going on air would make his role in Knights Out widely known and likely result in his discharge from the Army, which had been his life since age 18. But the producer was incredibly persuasive, and, as Choi jokes, "Military folks are used to doing what they're told."
The outcome was at once predictable and unexpected. The Army notified Choi of his discharge proceedings nearly two months after the segment aired in March, and his nervy on-air plea to hold onto his job helped make him one of the newest and most powerful voices in the LGBT rights movement. He's since spoken out in television appearances and rallies on a range of issues, from gays in the military to marriage equality, during a season of major victories in Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine -- and a painful setback in California. He's also campaigning for Anthony Woods, a West Point classmate who was similarly discharged under the ban. Woods is running for the California congressional seat to be vacated by Rep. Ellen Tauscher, now an appointee for a State Department post.