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Dan Choi Discharge Raises Questions about Activism for Profit

July 23, 2010; Melanie Nathan.

Mel Nathan (plus 20lbs) , Dan Choi, Shirley Tan June/2009

I am no military woman, and never have been, but I have been an activist in the LGBT community for a while now. Like many others who become activists, I became one as a result of my personal experiences as a lesbian and a wife after actions by my government affected the life of my family in an adverse way just because I was a lesbian.

So I’ll admit right off, my reasons for becoming an activist were very selfish; I became an activist because I was fighting for the very life of my family.

As many of you also know, I am also a writer and editor with Lezgtreal.com. However the reporting on the issues surrounding the repeal of DADT on LGR, is not my beat so to speak and there are others on the site who have a far greater understanding of those issues and from a more personal experience then I do. One of them is LGR’s publisher, Dr. Paula Brooks and another is LGR political editor Bridgette LaVatoire.

Paula’s perspective on DADT comes from that of the daughter of a multi-generational military family and her passion about repealing DADT is fueled by the unjust career of her same-sex wife, a former member of the US Navy, a hero who had served bravely as a fighter pilot, who quit the service over DADT. Paula’s perspective may well be a concomitant of her memories of her wife, who, weak and dying, a mere three weeks before passing away from cancer, insisted Paula drive her the 100 plus miles to speak to her Congress Person about repealing DADT; one final time, long before DADT repeal became a cause-celeb. When it comes to matters concerning DADT she is passionate, formidable and I have always been impressed.

I have also been very impressed by the activism of Lt Dan Choi, and have personally been a fan of his since he first ‘outed’ himself on the Rachel Maddow show about a year ago, and then fought for the DADT repeal cause.

I met Dan a year ago at SF Pride when we were both backstage at the event and I felt an immediate connection. Here was this like-minded kindred soul who had given up so much, the way I had done, to follow the promise we had made to ourselves in our fight for equality. For me the passion to change the inequality for others, considering myself still lucky in my iniquitous mess, was a vow that I could not break, at whatever cost and for no reward other than equality for all. I thought I saw that same thing in Dan as well.

However over the past couple of days, I have read the reports surrounding the discharge of Lt. Dan Choi.

Yesterday, I read the article, “Lt. Dan Choi Discharged- Why Won’t He Admit It?” In that article, Dan was asked to explain why he had not made his June 29th discharge public for nearly a month.

After reading the piece, it seemed rather odd to me that a month had gone by and Dan had not made his discharge public. I too thought, for the man who has become the face of DADT repeal, letting people know about an event like his discharge under DADT should have been a pretty important event to Dan as well. As an activist why did he not immediately inform the LGBT community, all who have invested in his journey and had eyes on his every move.

So while not my beat, I began to look for my own answers. I first asked Dr. Brooks what was up with all of this?

She told me she thought, in her opinion, Choi had probably turned “pro” and the reason for not saying anything about the discharge might stem from the fact the uniform was a pretty good prop and to wear the uniform after you are discharged, is a federal crime. She also told me she has been trying to get him to clear up some questions she had about financial issues for better then a month.

Later I found out that Dan Choi has an agent. (Gotham Artists).

This led me to question why an agent? Activists put the cause first – they struggle financially, are able to fund their own activism or are openly paid via non-profits with Board responsibility at their helm; they don’t need agents.  And they do not make deals for their activism that involve making money.

Don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that people should not get support for expenses in their activism, however I never ever dreamed I would need an Agent for my activism or for the speaking engagements I have done freely around the issues I speak about.

Agents do not work for free, they are in business to earn commissions. Now while I am barely known in comparison to Dan, I could not imagine ever offering 10 percent of my equality fight, in dollars, to anyone.

Later, as I looked even further into this story, an LGBT student at Texas Tech University told me that when the school had asked for Choi to be a speaker, they were told by Choi’s agent, they needed to be paid 7000 dollars up front to get him there. When they could not come up with the money, Choi apparently refused to speak.
So far I’ve not been able to confirm this, but if this is true, as a fellow activist, I feel that all the good of bringing attention to DADT and its repeal to the public attention should not have this kind of quid pro quo attached to it.

I also have to think, that if this is true, it takes Dan Choi out of the realm of pure activist, could this mean he has taken himself down the road of profit maker for activism?  If he is charging to be a motivational speaker, he must  come clean to the community and separate his DADT activities from his speaking career quest.  He owes us that!  But would that serve a profit making quest?

I am disturbed by these possible developments and would like to invite Dan to show some accountability to our community.

I have taken huge financial hit for my activism- call me stupid – and I have suffered the consequences in many ways, too embarrassing to describe. I have not charged a cent to anyone who has asked me to provide personal advocacy services, because to my way of thinking I am being an activist when I approach a Senator for a private Bill or a Congressman for the release of a detainee.

Hence as a known fellow activist for LGBT rights, I feel qualified to ask Dan these questions on behalf of our community. I hope he gets back to all of us with the answers.

I Ask – Why Did Choi  reveal his Discharge on the Maddow Show a month after it happened?   Why did Dan Choi wait a month to tell us he had been discharged? Why did the activism and arrest in Vegas continue while we did not know he had been discharged?  Look at all the Choi news since June 29th – Look at Choi’s website – No dates when he tells of discharge? It is ODD!  What about GetEqual – did they know?  Where is the Press release?  If it was kept quiet for so long, why?  Was it about the money? Is there something else we do not know? Are these manouevers designed to get Choi a higher asking price?

UPDATE :   Ten minutes after posting, – A reader has just confirmed one of the questions by referring me to this site:-  http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wakeupamerica2010/2010/07/04/what-does-equality-mean-to-you

Melanie Nathan
nathan@privatecourts.com

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21 Responses to Dan Choi Discharge Raises Questions about Activism for Profit

  1. Ray

    July 30, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    Melanie, you’re not asking important questions. Why don’t you check and see how much money the advocates for NOM and Exodus make? This is unadulterated character assassination of someone who just got his teeth kicked in by the military, humiliated and kicked into the gutter. This blog is IMMORAL and AMORAL. That about gays eating their own. Sheesh! Shame on you!!!

    • Melanie Nathan

      July 30, 2010 at 7:33 pm

      Maybe to you Ray – these questions may seem unimportant. To me conflict of interest issues are critical. Asking these questions will distinguish me from those who tend to put their necks into the ground and accept everything at face value – tea party style- gay or not! You really do not have to like me or this BLOG. That is not the point.

      I have taken a great risk in asking questions because the answers are important to me and probably the Kids at Texas TECH and who knows else whom he refused to speak to without $7500 fee plus expenses. It is not productive to compare fingerprints. No fingerprint is alike. How can you even begin to compare our struggle and cry for rights to NOM et al?

      Dan Choi is not a non profit group- he does not have Board accountability. So comparison to any non profit is simply not valid. To accuse me of character assassination is an over reaction. The facts speak for themselves. I am not the assassin – I am the messenger. Do with it as you will.

      I live in the big world – I have small children – I do not live by Gay “unbber alles” I live by my conscience of what is right and wrong. To think that because we are gay we must simply accept and not question each other is the very reason we do NOT have a REAL gay movement.

  2. Wolfie

    July 30, 2010 at 8:08 am

    Hi Mel and Paula! This is Wolf from over at Back2Stonewall.com I hold Lez Get Real and you both in very high regard but I think that this whole Choi getting paid for speaking gigs might be a bit over blown. Choi is both an Activist and an Advocate. As stated in the story : “Activists put the cause first – they struggle financially, are able to fund their own activism or are openly paid via non-profits with Board responsibility at their helm; they don’t need agents. And they do not make deals for their activism that involve making money.” Yes they do but I don;’t see HRC, or any of the other Gay Inc. Orgs stepping forward to sponsor him. If anything we shjould constantly be ripping on Gay Inc. leaders about thier bloated salaries for what little they actually do. Joe Solmonese 325K a year? Rea Carey over 150K a year, jarrett Barrios over 200k a Year, and Geoff Koors over 175k a year, And now we bitch about Dan Choi making 7k from a speaking engagement at a private institution so he can pay his bills and make a living? I can understand your worry and frustration but Choi making some money off speaking engagements to live on isn’t a big deal. (Oh and an agent is proibably needed to take care of the leadality, contracts, and negotiations) We all make sacrafices yes. Choi sacraficed his position in the Army. Letrs not go down this road unless he really proves himself a sellout. It’s much too early for this

    • Melanie Nathan

      July 30, 2010 at 11:50 am

      Wolfie – Thanks for expressing your opinion and concerns. The question is why did he refuse the Kids at TECH school when they were unable to raise the money – when it is ONLY about money – then activism called into question and requires answers. Choi could easily have answered also the questions about his discharge. The only blowing up that has resulted from this is the fact that Dan has been AWOL on pertinent questions and people have commented in blind defense. Everyone seems to think I object to Choi making some money – that is not the case at ALL. Looking at my articles in that way reflects lack of understanding of the questions asked and the importance to our community!

    • Wolfie

      July 30, 2010 at 7:08 pm

      Not really in reality though I I DO think its a bit early to hang him out to dry over this though. It’s great reporting and your concerns are well founded but theres so much anger which I can understand but I reserve mine for Gay Inc in this senario and am personally glad that HRC and the other froupos aren’t associated with Choi.

      Love your site, love your articles. I just think that the anger here might be a bit strong and slightly misplaced considering all thats wring with Gay Inc. To begrudge Dan Choi 7.5K at this point after his actions are probably the ONLY reason that theres been movement on DADT at all over th past 2 months just seems kinda, I don;t know reactionary. Look I’m sorry it’s just my opinion and believe me I know thats not worth much. I still do think you guys do an awesome job. I just disagree to an extent. Do I think its RIGHT? Meh, its borderlinbe. Do I like it? Not Really. Am I ready to hang Choi out to dry? No, honstly I am not. There’s much dirtier laundry in our Activist and Advocate Organizations to deal with/
      Going back to my site now to hang HRC out to dry. LOL

  3. DJF

    July 25, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    In the interest of your blog’s journalistic integrity, some simple research (Google:  insert name followed by the term ‘speaking fee’) would have provided the following information and spared you embarrassment:

    Eric Alva, Iraq War Veteran and LGBT Rights Activist (And face of the Human Rights Campaign’s national DADT initiative, see:  http://www.hrc.org/alva/)
    http://www.kepplerspeakers.com/speakers.aspx?name=Eric+Alva

    Judy Shepard, Gay Rights Activist and Mother of Matthew Shepard
    http://www.kepplerspeakers.com/speakers.aspx?name=Judy+Shepard

    Yes some LGBT rights activists do have agents and do earn fees for speaking engagements.

    • Melanie Nathan

      July 25, 2010 at 10:36 pm

      Yeah I know the keppler site – they are speakers bureau and not an agent that goes out and shop[s deals for you. . . So there is a major diffs. Also by the way, It would be nice if you provided the correlation of facts for your assertion that this relates to my article and the timing questions that have been raised.
      I think the fact that Dan refused the Kids at TECH based on money during the height of the DADT battle, while he is the face of DADT itself, is really odd… for an activist – hence my questions…. thanks for commenting.

    • DJF

      July 27, 2010 at 3:17 pm

      Is there some reason why my reply from yesterday has not yet been posted?  Watching you was well.

      David John Fleck

  4. DramaQueenNYC

    July 25, 2010 at 1:53 am

    Continue to ask these questions for what ? Because your trying to make a “name” for yourself. Give me a break Ms. Thang. I suggest sugar that you go take a little course in some real writing. Funny I thought it was called paparazzi what you do.

  5. Wake Up America

    July 24, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    What can I say but again we do not have unity in our community. The story I told about Lt. Choi is a fact!!! pure plain and simply put if those of you choose not to believe the facts then that is not my problem it is yours!! Choi’s AGENT wanted a deposit of 3500.00 down to confirm him speaking at the Texas Tech University in October of 2010 I being the person that I am thought it would be a nice thing to do and help out our youth their in west Texas and do a fund raising show for them to help them raise the total of 7000 dollars that they needed to get him there!!!! I did not tell everyone on the show about how much the kids needed because It was not MY PLACE to do so they have their website and everyone was directed to that specific website for further information!! So stop with all the rumor B/S the facts are the facts! Lt Chlo;s Agent wanted 3500.00 down to secure Choi to speak in Oct with the remaining balance to be paid before October! total 7000!!! Get over it already!!

  6. Wake Up America

    July 24, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    For those of you who refuse to believe the TRUTH about Texas Tech what can I say the facts do not lie!!!

    • J Boda

      July 24, 2010 at 8:45 pm

      Ms Nathan,

      I don’t question your activism. I thank you for it. I only warn you that reporting rumors as facts doesn’t go far to build your credibility. I listened to the hour-long Wake Up America BlogTalkRadio show. It was a fund raiser but did not mention the goal amount ($7000) or that Choi refused to speak unless the fee was paid. Every point I made stands.

      Ms LaVictoire,

      I honor family’s service to our country. However, I will be kind and say, that does not entitle anyone to disparage a combat veteran without hard facts. Combat vet seems to mean a lot to you when it’s from your family. Please apply it to Lt Choi. Your blog becomes more irrelevant with each attack against LGBT allies fighting for equality without substantial facts. You’ve lost this reader of your FB page, your blog, and clicks to your advertisers (I clicked thru when you asked your readers to click on the movie ad on your blog page for “The Kids Are Alright”). That may be meaningless coming from someone who actually took the time to give you constructive criticism. However, imagine the lost readers who don’t bother to post why they left. By the way… your page has sponsors. How are your profits for your activism?

    • Bridgette P. LaVictoire

      July 24, 2010 at 8:53 pm

      J Boda,

      Those advertisements pay for the server fees and for the redesign on the blog. So far, the majority of the writers on this site have received little to no compensation.

      You talk about needing to have substantial facts, well, you know something, not everything we hear is on the record nor is everything that you read on this site news. I have talked to several veterans who are furious- FURIOUS- with what Choi has done, and yet, I cannot name them because they have asked me not to.

      I am sorry you decided to stop reading our blog, but you needed to stop being so firmly set in the belief that Choi was some kind of hero. He is not.

      When something is listed under Commentary or Editorial, it is asking questions, including questions that arise from rumor. They do not have to be substantiated the way a news item is. We are asking Choi to answer questions and accusations which have arisen so far, and to address the fact that there are people out there who do not like him at all because he wears his uniform.

      Next time, and this goes for everyone who reads this comment, please check to see what category an item is under so that it is clear what the standards of that particular piece are.

      Incidentally, J Boda, if you actually read this comment, demanding that I kowtow to Choi because he served is not constructive criticism. Nor is attacking us for reporting about him or asking questions about him or expressing our distrust about him gossiping and rumor mongering. As for not attacking our allies- NEXT TIME tell that to CHOI and company for their damned stupid stunts which have done more to throw sand into the gears of this process than they have done to help. They have attacked our allies time and time again, and yet all we ever hear about is just how great this man is. Trust me, when you are down in the trenches you learn what the impression of men like Choi is inside those corridors of power. Trust me- but then again you don’t trust me do you- this man is not liked at all inside Congress or inside the Pentagon.

    • Bridgette P. LaVictoire

      July 24, 2010 at 9:28 pm

      Ok, but then again, I am not sure of all the accounting. I know that I’m the only one not helping pay for the hosting service because I don’t have a paying job right now.

  7. J Boda

    July 24, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    Sticking to the facts: Specifically, 10 USC, Subtitle A, Part II, Chapter 45, Sections 772 states:

    (e) A person not on active duty who served honorably in time of war in the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps may bear the title, and, when authorized by regulations prescribed by the President, wear the uniform, of the highest grade held by him during that war.

    Your argument falls flat regarding the delay in Choi reporting his discharge and using his uniform as a ‘prop’. If Choi was concerned with the legalities of wearing the uniform once discharged, someone armed with facts would think he faced a greater danger of imprisonment while protesting in uniform and criticizing the Commander in Chief (the President) – both offenses under the UCMJ (and neither enforced against Choi). I don’t know the facts behind the delay. However, not knowing the facts keeps me from resorting to rumor mongering.

    Again, sticking to the facts regarding the Texas Tech speaking engagement:
    “So far I’ve not been able to confirm this…” Then why repeat a rumor? The Texas Tech instance is the only one I’ve seen about his refusing to talk unless money was handed over in advance. And each instance of the story always seems to start with – I heard it from a friend who’s cousin goes to the school where they know a friend who knows a guy… If you want respect as a writer, state a trusted source or your information is only as strong as the source you cite. I certainly wouldn’t rely on hearsay.

    Your complaints of activism fall flat if you’re focusing on one person. Most folks loved Kathy Griffin’s efforts to shine a light on DADT with her show. Guess what, it was set up with an agent. Joe Solomnese of HRC makes $300,000+ for his activism. Hell, even President Clinton has an agent. It’s how people in demand get scheduled. With Choi’s military commitments, I’m sure he had to ensure certain stipulations were met for him to speak. An agent facilitates that. Totally plausible to me.

    Look, I’m not saying Choi isn’t out for profit. Maybe he is. Maybe he isn’t. But I do know the facts about his West Point appointment, his critical skills that protect our country, his combat tour to Iraq, and his career being trashed by DADT. That alone gives him the benefit of the doubt in my book and goes a long way for me as a retired 20-year Air Force Master Sergeant. He earned his voice, his opinion, and his uniform.

    Smearing a combat veteran with rumors without showing cause (evidence) is without honor or integrity and amounts to gossipy tweens angry they didn’t get to interview the quarterback. Next time you and LGR go after a decorated war veteran that protected your freedom of speech, how ’bout we agree to stick to the facts?

    • Melanie Nathan

      July 24, 2010 at 7:08 pm

      Thanks for the comments. All I have done is ask important questions. All comments are welcome. Interestingly the facts about Texas have been confirmed with evidenced as can be seen from recent comments and direction to websites. I knew it was not a rumor. Sometimes one receives information from sources such as via facebook; and if possibly a rumor and repeated the truth ultimately gets flushed out. . It turns out my source was correct and the truth got flushed out in less than ten minutes of the article being up on LGR.

      Each and every question I ask is valid. I have proved my own credentials and thoughts as an activist. I would be remiss if I held onto questions that I believed impacted our community in an important way.

    • Bridgette P. LaVictoire

      July 24, 2010 at 7:45 pm

      J Boda,

      My grandfather served in World War II in the Army Air Corps. His brothers served in the Navy and Army. His sister served in the Marines as a nurse. My great-grandfather served in WWI. I sit less than a hundred miles from a place where my ancestors and their relatives fought and many died in order to make this nation independent from Britain.

      Remember something, Choi was discharged honorably with conditions. You might want to look up those conditions, including, I might add, that he does not get any pay what so ever.

      Personally, I am tired of Choi using his uniform as a prop. It is disrespectful of the uniform and of the service. We are hardly smearing Choi with gossip and rumors- or did you not get that message the last time you posted sir!

      Choi has made it harder to get this law overturned and made the lives harder with respect to the people who still have to live with its reality.

    • S

      July 27, 2010 at 10:09 pm

      That’s really something that has bothered me for a while. Why exactly was Choi still a lieutenant? Don’t you pick up captain after 36 months? There must be a reason.

  8. Melanie Nathan

    July 24, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    Its all a mystery to me Paula, hence these questions…. ???

  9. Wake Up America

    July 24, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    I really am saddened by this situation, Please do not get me wrong here I am grateful for his service to our Country and I am forever grateful to anyone who puts their lives on the line for mine, BUT I do not or will not tolerate putting profit ahead of our Gay youth. The Texas Tech Kids needed his help and he ignored their cries.. Bottom line no lies hard core truth! So Lt Choi I challenge you to help out those kids in West Texas drop your large fee and help out kids out???? They can pay you to come for your flight and food but 7000.00 come on!! These kids are in collage!! They need your help! SO I Lori Sirois from Wake Up America challenge you to step up and speak at their school in October 2010!

  10. Wake Up America

    July 24, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    Mel I IS TRUE! about the Texas Tech event i held a fund raiser show on behalf of the students at Texas Tech to PAY FOR CHOI’S large fee! Here is the show everyone can listen for themselves…

    http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wakeupamerica2010/2010/07/04/what-does-equality-mean-to-you