University News

Choi: ‘antidote’ to homophobia is courage

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, November 5, 2010

In the moment leading up to Daniel Choi coming out as gay to his mother, he could tell she sensed something was bothering him.

“She knew I had something in my mind, something in my heart,” he said, and he wanted to clear the air.

As he tells the story, he describes his mother’s reaction to his revelation as a slight pause, and then — “Don’t marry a white girl!”

He exaggerates her shrill voice, but humor is how he copes, Choi told an audience in MacMillan 117 Thursday night. His speech, celebrating the 30th annual Asian/Asian-American History Month convocation, drew on his own personal experiences as a gay Korean-American in the military and his life before and after he came out of the closet on the “Rachel Maddow Show” in March 2009 and was subsequently discharged from the Army.

It took all the bravery he could muster, Choi said, but that bravery is the strength he prizes.

“Our courage is the only thing that can stop people from losing hope,” Choi said. “Our courage is the antidote.”

But courage, he said, is not what led to the recent suicides of gay youth across the country. When people are not able to marry who they love, or get jobs, or be protected from bullying, the oppressors are to blame, he said.

Choi criticized President Obama’s recent attempt to comfort LGBT youth who might be feeling helpless at the same time his administration opposes repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, saying that “silent homophobia and loud homophobia have the same results.”

“You are Pharaoh,” Choi said. “Let my people go.”

Another injustice Choi mentioned was the “model minority myth” that Asian-Americans ­— particularly people hailing from East Asia — face. Besides excluding many Asians from other parts of the continent, such as the Southeast, the myth enforces a perceived need for Asian-Americans to fit a specific mold to be accepted by society.

Though his talk focused mostly on the culture of oppression and how to fight it, Choi fielded policy questions as well. Choi called Brown, and schools like it, “heroes” for prohibiting the ROTC from its campus so long as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is in effect. One female audience member asked Choi if he saw any irony in his activism when the military he was once part of has been conducting a war against the Iraqi people.

“I support so much of your message, but I can’t help but think we’re fighting for the rights of people like you and me” to wage war in the Middle East, the woman said.

Choi praised the question, calling the military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan unjust and saying the greatest threats to American soldiers were cultural illiteracy and an inability to relate to the people in these countries. But, Choi added, militaries will always exist, if only to provide for the common defense.