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Gay soldier finds support

Demonstrators organize impromptu rally for lieutenant who might be discharged for discussing his sexuality.

May 07, 2009|By Alan Blank

Lt. Dan Choi, an Orange County native and Iraq veteran, found out Wednesday that a board of Army officials is looking into dismissing him from service for violating its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexuality.

News of the action led Laura Kanter to stay up most of the night planning a spur-of-the-moment protest on UCI’s Watson Bridge.

Kanter is a board member of the fledgling Orange County Equality Coalition, a local activist group that sprung up after Proposition 8 eliminated same-sex marriage in California. The group was one of the organizing forces behind the hundreds who demonstrated recently in favor of Corona del Mar High School’s recent production of the musical “Rent,” after rumors spread that it was canceled for content involving homosexuality.

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Choi’s federal recognition as an officer in the New York Army National Guard may be revoked for forming a group of openly gay West Point graduates and talking about his homosexuality on national television and in other public forums.

“Here you have an officer that was upfront with national press and talked about his status, which appears to be in conflict with the standing national law and that’s what they’re going to talk about,” said Lt. Col. Paul Fanning, a spokesman for the New York Army National Guard.

Not openly talking about sexual orientation is more than just an Army policy, it’s a federal law, and Army officials are charged with enforcing it, Fanning said. Regardless of Choi’s personal credentials, he apparently broke the law and the Army doesn’t have any discretion to change it.

Roughly 12,000 people have been dismissed from service during the law’s 15-year tenure, according to the most recent statistics.

With hours’ notice, about 40 to 50 people came with signs and posters to the Watson Bridge on Thursday afternoon to oppose the action. Most were members of the Equality Coalition. They were joined by a few UCI students who took a break from the school day and a few cast members of “Rent.” Word spread over social networking websites.

“What we’re doing by kicking him out of the military is getting rid of a very valuable talent,” said Newport activist Tom Peterson, who highlighted Choi’s fluency in Arabic and years of decorated service.

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