Telling jokes to the choir

I admire Lt. Dan Choi a lot. First of all, I have a general sense of admiration for people who choose to serve their country in the military. In Lt. Choi's case, it's clear he's doing so despite having other options for a career if he chose to pursue them. So, there's that.

But he's also willing to stand up and be a leader for civil rights for gays and lesbians. As an openly gay man challenging the antiquated and embarrassing Don't Ask, Don't Tell rule, he's formed an advocacy group, risked the career he's worked so hard for by coming out of the closet, and decided to go the civil disobedience route. Clearly, he's willing to take a stand for a cause he believes in. Again, a trait I admire.

I also admire his forthrightness about a problem common to advocacy groups in general, and the LGBT lobbying community in particular (via Andrew):
When did you decide to take this step, to go beyond talking and do something like chain yourself to the White House gate?
There are so many moments. When I first fell in love? When I was closeted while serving in Iraq? You know, the military puts the idea of sacrifice in your mind the very first day you join. We learned very quickly that someday we might be asked to sacrifice life, limb, comfort, and freedom. My soldier training has made me a better activist, and being a gay activist makes me a better soldier. I can use tactics of both to make both roles better.

Why now? Because you get tired of talking. [Over the past two years] I've done 50 live interviews, a hundred other interviews, how much more talk am I expected to produce? When I heard Kathy Griffin was going to be a spokeswoman for Don't Ask, Don't Tell, I wondered about that. I have great respect for her as an advocate. But if [the Human Rights Campaign] thinks that having a rally at Freedom Plaza with a comedienne is the right approach, I have to wonder. Don't Ask, Don't Tell is not a joking matter to me. To be at Freedom Plaza and not at the White House or Congress? Who are they trying to influence? I felt like they were just trying to speak to themselves. If that's the best the lobbying groups and HRC can do, then I don't know how these powerful groups are supposed to represent our community. Kathy Griffin and [HRC president] Joe Solmonese said they would march with me to the White House but didn’t. I feel so betrayed by them.

I think Kathy Griffin is pretty funny, though her humor is based more on dishy gossip than an especially witty or insightful viewpoint. (Also, a willingness to be obvious in desperate pursuit of attention.) But then, chances are I'd find Kathy Griffin amusing, since she falls all over herself to ingratiate herself with gay men. (We are, if nothing else, suckers for dishy gossip.) What I don't find Kathy Griffin is a convincing spokesperson for changing military policy.

I think it's an inarguable indication of the Human Rights Campaign's fundamental unseriousness that they would choose Kathy Griffin to be a public face for a controversial issue like DADT. First of all, she is famously willing to be confrontational for its own sake, which is not a great trait in a spokesperson. But what kind of authority does she have about military issues at all? Who is she going to convince?

This reminds of a huge rally I attended in DC, many years ago. It was in favor of reproductive rights for women, and I was there as part of a physician lobbying organization. As such, I got to go backstage and meet a bunch of famous people. (I missed Sheryl Crow, which still makes me disappointed. It was cool to meet Moby, though.) Various celebrities got up and made relatively meaningless speeches (Ani DiFranco thought that the best way of supporting women's reproductive freedoms was to sing not one, but TWO songs). Meanwhile, the head of a major labor union's time to speak was cut, and he got angry and left. Which of these people is more likely to get voters to the polls to elect leaders in support of this agenda -- Christine Lahti or the head of a major labor union? Guess which one got more time.

Don't get me wrong. I love to schmooze with famous people on those rare occasions when I get the chance. But let's not call that advocacy.


  1. Ya know, when someone suggests a little civil disobedience like chaining people to the WH fence to protest the lack of Gay Rights, I'm sure charo and crew are all for it. I would have no problem with it either; the chainees know they are making a statement and are hoping to change public opinion on unfair policies.

    When someone suggests a little civil disobedience like defying 'insurance' 'reforms' to protest the lack of sane fiscal and healthcare policies, we see charo gets the vapors and drops to his fainting couch. Oh well, consistency is overrated as a virtue.

  2. Dear friends, it is time for me to once again beat this dead horse in front of all you non-veterans. The study on DADT is again gaining momentum with the R's and will be another in their attack strategy comes November. (Let’s see the R's use same attack strategy used on anyone else in the manner they use it against us). Remember, Truman? He was the man from Missouri with huge balls. He signed an executive order and that did it period. He with a stroke of his pen ended the military discrimination in the armed services for our black military personnel. For those who support Mr. Obama in his study I say… nonsense. How long and how many studies must be done to have enough Americans behind the study so it will stand on its own. How about this scenario, how about the AMA prohibiting gay surgeons to practice medicine because their fellow doctors are uncomfortable being is a locker room while they are changing into their scrubs or using their fingers in surgery, after all they are touching each other. Or the gay college professor who may see their fellows (either he or she) in the buff after a workout or coaching the football or basketball team. Gay military personnel are professionals too. They are professionals in a different manner. They are professionals at defending us in ways non-combat veterans cannot possibly imagine and in ways I do not wish to re-live nor repeat. These persons protect us so we may go about making our living, or voting, or just being. I never once heard anyone worry about being fondled while being shot at. Although the DC vote for gay marriage was a wonderful reprieve from the current run on hatred, Barney Frank said it best when he said, we are taking the wrong approach with parades and banners. We should be enlisting everyone we know and causing a barrage of e-mails and calls to every elected official, just like the NRA. When I first heard about Dan Choi being arrested for handcuffing himself to the fence of the White House and I began to think about what happened, I had totally forgotten what real activism was.
    Let me be quite clear about one thing: what Dan Choi did was plotted to gain the most amounts of press and attention, and undoubtedly will dominate the conversation going into the next Don't Ask, Don't Tell news cycle. It's big, over the top, political theater of the type that is destined to get tongues wagging about the issue once again and will definitely secure Lt. Choi's place as a major figure in gay activism. I speak out for the same reasons that other gay veterans do: because there are thousands of gay soldiers currently serving whose voices are rendered completely silent due to this policy, and if we veterans don't speak up for them, nobody else will. It is our job to make people care, and to put a human face to the Don't Ask Don't Tell conversation, and to engage people on a more grassroots level so that they can get a good idea of the damage that the policy does. Since exploding onto the scene just under a year ago, it is arguable that Lt. Dan Choi has done this more effectively than anyone else. Lt. Choi's actions seem to hearken back to an era that Cleve Jones talks about when he reminisces about the work he did with Harvey Milk back in the 70's, the era when we gay men founded ACT UP after becoming sick and tired of seeing each other dying from AIDS and getting nothing but silence from the Reagan Administration, and it's the era where gay people actually fought for their rights instead of waiting patiently for them.

  3. GJ, might your comment be a wee bit off-topic?

  4. It's not only who is most likely to get voters to the polls. Not only does she lack knowledge or authority. What person is the endorsement of Kathy Griffin (of all people) going to move to support DADT, who doesn't already support it? DOes she have a single fan who does not already support gay rights?

  5. How so, Dr. Dan? The post itself brought up civil disobedience and chaining people to the WH fence. I remarked on how liberals approve of this sort of stuff all the time, but when the civil disobedience shoe is on the right foot, some on the left find it an abusive. (Kinda like how liberals was more or less silent when Pres. Bush was marked with swastikas and gunsight crosses, but discovered danger when liberal politicians were on the receiving end.)

    Dedication to the cause is fine. Maintaining the same standards of conduct to behavior opposed to the cause (something at which you excel) should not be an equestrian animal of an entirely different hue.

  6. Just a little update here folks. Talk about bullshit, this comes to us from the Marine Corps Commander, The Marine Corps' top officer says he would want to avoid housing gay and heterosexual Marines in the same rooms on base if the ban on gays openly serving in the military is lifted. So now they want Separate but equal? Where have we heard that before and I wonder how the president feels about that. P.S. JG, I know a little something about cross-hairs and I don't like it one bit when these wacko Tea Party Nut-bags use the metaphor for our elected officials.

  7. Because, GJ, the post is about DADT and celebrities as advocates. It is only tangentially about civil disobedience. It has nothing to do with charo.