May 8, 2009

Rachel Maddow talks to Daniel Choi who was dismissed from the National Guard after appearing on her show and admitting openly that he was gay. Mr. Choi said he intends to fight DADT to the end and the President has said he would like to see it repealed but it will take time and cooperation from the Congress.

MADDOw: On the actual show tonight, though, we begin with two major developments surrounding one of the most controversial, long-thought-over policies of the United States government. It is the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy.

Conceived in 1993 by the Clinton administration, gay military personnel are technically allowed to serve their country but only if they lie about their sexual orientation. Disclosing that you‘re gay, saying it, counts as homosexual conduct, and is grounds for dismissal.

It is the enunciated policy of the Obama administration that “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” is wrong and it should be repealed. Exactly when President Obama will take any sort of action to back up that position remains to be seen.

Tonight, there is brand-new news, tangible evidence of President Obama‘s personal stance on the issue. This past January, U.S. Army 2nd Lieutenant Sandy Tsao announced to her military chain of command that she is gay. On the same day that she violated “don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” she wrote a letter to the White House, urging President Obama to repeal the ban and expressing to him her fear that she would be kicked out of the military as a result of her decision to come out.

This week, President Obama personally responded to Lieutenant Tsao‘s letter with a handwritten note of his own. It reads, quote, “Sandy, thanks for the wonderful and thoughtful letter. It is because of outstanding Americans like you that I committed to changing our current policy. Although it will take some time to complete, partly because it needs congressional action, I intend to fulfill my commitment.” And it is signed “Barack Obama.”

Personal commitment from the president or not, Lieutenant Tsao‘s career has just been ended. She has been informed that she‘ll be discharged from the military as of May 19th.

Over the past 15 years, “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” has led to the dismissal of around 12,500 members of the United States armed forces, and as of right now, it is still U.S. law under commander in chief Barack Obama.

On March 19th on this program, I interviewed U.S. Army Lieutenant Daniel Choi. Lieutenant Choi is a West Point grad. He‘s an Iraq combat veteran. He‘s an Arabic language specialist, and he is the founding member of the organization Knights Out, which is a group of West Point grads who have announced that they are gay or lesbian.

Lieutenant Choi is now in the National Guard. Here is what he told this program on March 19th.


CHOI: I am an infantry platoon leader in the New York Army National Guard, and by saying three words to you today—I am gay—those three words are a violation of Title X of the U.S. Code.


MADDOW: This week, those three words cost Dan Choi his military career as well. He has received a letter from the U.S. Army informing him that he is being dismissed, it says, in part, quote, “this is to inform you that sufficient basis exists to initiate action for withdrawal of federal recognition in the Army National Guard for moral or professional dereliction. Specifically, you admitted publicly that you are a homosexual, which constitutes homosexual conduct. Your actions negatively affected the good order and discipline of the New York Army National Guard.”

Joining us now for his first interview since being informed of his dismissal is U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant Daniel Choi. Lieutenant Choi, thank you so much for coming back on the show. Good to see you.

CHOI: Good to see you face to face, yes.

MADDOW: You knew there was a very good possibility that by coming out publicly on this show, you would get kicked out of the military. But I have to ask what your reaction was when you actually got the letter this week.

CHOI: Well, when I got the letter, I was extremely angry. I was angry—I mean, the letter is basically saying bottom line, Lieutenant Dan Choi, you‘re fired. You‘re a West Point graduate, you‘re fired. You‘re an Arabic linguist, you‘re fired. You deployed to Iraq, you‘re willing to deploy again, doesn‘t matter. Because you‘re gay, that‘s enough grounds to kick you out.

But the biggest thing that I‘m angry about is what it says about my unit. It says that my unit suffered negative good order—negative actions—good order and discipline suffered. That‘s a big insult to my unit.

I mean, all the insult that the letter can do, to say that I‘m worthy of being fired, you know, that‘s nothing comparing to saying that my unit is not professional enough, that my unit does not deserve to have a leader that is willing to deploy, that has skills to contribute.

MADDOW: In terms of the good order and discipline allegation, what has been the reaction that you got from your fellow troops, from your unit after you told them that you are gay? Was there upset, was there discord? Were there any negative consequences to your ability to function as a group?

CHOI: Two weeks after I appeared on the show, we had National Guard training. Basically, we went to marksmanship qualification. We shot our rifles. And I was leading some of the training as officer in charge, telling them to cease fire or fire, and I thought, for four days, nobody was saying anything, so maybe they don‘t watch TV or maybe they don‘t read the “Army Times.” But at the end of the training, so many people came up to me, my peers, my subordinates, people that outranked me, folks that have been in the Army—and this is an infantry unit, infantry men that—coming up to me and saying, hey, sir, hey, Lieutenant Choi, we know, and we don‘t care. What we care about is that you can contribute to the team. And what leaders do, they look to see how can they make the best team before they go to war. That‘s what they care about.

MADDOW: Dan, what recourse do you have? Do you plan to challenge this?

CHOI: Well, the letter says that I can basically do a couple of things. I can resign right now and get an honorable discharge, or I can fight it.

I intend fully to fight it tooth and nail. I believe that “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” is wrong, and what we really need to be encouraging soldiers to do is to don‘t lie, don‘t hide, don‘t discriminate, and don‘t weaken the military. That‘s what we need to be promoting.

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