This past Saturday, I rolled out of my bed and sat glued to the couch watching the debates and cloture votes taking place in the Senate on two important pieces of legislations: the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and the Dream Act.
With disappointment, the Dream Act did not gain enough votes to be brought to the Senate floor for debate. To a surprise though, “don’t ask, don’t tell” did reach 60 votes to be called for debate and was successfully repealed later on the same day by 65-31 votes.
I understood what the repeal meant in the grand scheme of things, but with my limited knowledge on the background of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy I did some digging. I also recalled back to a time when I heard Lieutenant Dan Choi speak at our school back in October of 2009 that left a profound impact on me.
Lieutenant Dan Choi is a graduate of West Point whose fluency in the Arabic language was an asset when he served in Iraq. However, in 2009, after coming out publicly on TV about his sexual orientation, he received his discharge letter. Since then, Lt. Dan Choi has been vocal in the fight to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
When he presented at our school, he began by reciting a poem of Iraq so eloquently and powerfully in Arabic that I was captivated by his passion even without understanding the words. He transliterated as he went, a poem about Iraq’s historical fame and significance, illustrating his understanding of the people, culture and the language of Iraq.
He also spoke about his life story as a Korean-American, a solider and a pastor’s son. He described his hardship growing up as a child of a pastor in a Korean American household.
Initially I was struck by him being a Korean American, then by the fact that he was a pastor’s son. There is a joke about being a pastor’s kid within the Asian-American community. They are often given a nickname–PK (Pastor’s kid). PK’s are generalized as being the troublemakers due to the nature of being on the constant radar of so many community members of their church.
He talked about the difficulty in opening up to his parents and struggling to take in their rejection. He went on to say that with courage and effort from all his family members they came to a better understanding of each other.
I am new in learning about the struggles of the LGBTQ community and their fight for equality. Lt. Dan Choi’s story led me to find a common ground on – life as a Korean American and the hardships of overcoming stigmas within your own community.
It was refreshing to see and hear from someone who followed his heart and spoke up for a cause he believed in, despite what people, even people from his own community, might say.
For many of us who truly believe in democracy and citizen activism as the main source of change, we understand and painfully experience the lack of political will and courage by our politicians today.
The vote this Saturday to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prohibits well-qualified soldiers from protecting our country and our freedom based solely on their sexual orientation, was a breath of fresh air. On that day one justice was deservingly served, while another wasn’t. We still have a lot of work to do.