Dan Choi hijacks HRC DADT-repeal rally
Because I was standing there, I witnessed a little backstage coup. Openly gay servicemember Lt. Dan Choi, whom GLAA's officers had the pleasure of chatting with at Nellie's Sports Bar last year, arrived with an activist group of his own, seeking a turn at the microphone. He was politely refused by a staffer who said that Ms. Griffin was the guest speaker at the event and they didn't want to detract from her. A woman who was with Choi said that Griffin was good at telling jokes but that DADT was not a laughing matter, and that if Choi was not allowed to speak, his group would disrupt the rally.
A few minutes later, Choi was able to speak to Griffin, who greeted him warmly. Having no idea what she was getting herself into, she agreed to introduce Choi at the end of her own remarks. HRC President Joe Solmonese was called over and consulted. A staffer came forward and asked Choi to sign a media release. After a guitarist played an opening number and a servicemember who had lost a leg spoke, Solmonese spoke and introduced Griffin.
Griffin may be a comic but she supports her legions of gay fans and is smarter than the average celebrity. She went to Capitol Hill this week to lobby for repeal of DADT, and from the rally stage she described her encounters with members of Congress such as Michele Bachmann, Eric Cantor, Jim Clyburn and Barney Frank. She led the crowd in a moment of silence for all the gay and lesbian servicemembers in harm's way overseas who have to serve in silence. Then she introduced Dan Choi, who strode up onto the stage. She thought she would do an impromptu Q&A session with him, but as soon as she asked her first question (a softball asking how he responded to those who said that openly gay servicemembers would be disruptive), he just took over and gave his speech.
Choi did not talk long. He started by repeating the line I had heard earlier that Griffin was good at telling jokes but that the unjust military gay ban was no laughing matter. He said that he was going to the White House after the rally to send President Obama a message that DADT needs to be repealed this year, and invited Griffin, Solmonese and the whole crowd to go with him. He said something like, "We're on the same team," but his effective hijacking of HRC's rally belied that.
After Choi stepped down from the stage, Griffin had one last chore: she gave information on how people could contact their members of Congress. She provided a text-messaging number that I didn't write down. The focus on Congress, which of course was planned by HRC, was the correct one: The President cannot repeal DADT; that must be done by Congress. All during this time, former HRC staffer Phil Attey was standing next to me; he was quite upset with Choi's attempt to refocus the rally on the White House, and several times he answered Choi's call to go to the White House by shouting "Go to Congress!" I agreed with Attey on this occasion, notwithstanding my annoyance last year with his persistent and vocal opposition to pressing ahead with D.C.'s marriage-equality bill, which he was convinced would harm the Democratic agenda in Congress.
Lt. Choi is a nice fellow, and I admired his physique as he stood with his back to me in his camouflage fatigues during the rally. But he appears to have fallen in with a radical group that is exploiting his earnestness and political naivete and that feels entitled to take over other people's events. His insistence on sending a message to Obama misses the point that messages to members of Congress are essential to repealing DADT. Attey spoke afterward to one of Choi's associates, who said that marching to the White House was valuable as a symbol. Many of us have had enough symbolic gestures and want to get the job done. It is true that some of us have called on the President to issue a stop-loss order to end the anti-gay discharges. But Choi said nothing about that; he spoke of repeal, while directing his attention to the wrong end of Pennsylvania Avenue for that purpose.
I thought the line about Griffin that she was good at telling jokes but this was no laughing matter was boorish. Mockery of bigotry has a place in our struggle. If we have to be uniformly serious and solemn and can never tell a joke without being accused of disrespecting our gay and lesbian warriors, etc., you can count me out. Kathy Griffin was here as a friend and ally of our community to lend her fame and voice to a worthy cause. Some might find it irritating that a celebrity can attract attention to a cause that the rest of us cannot, but that is just the case. Those who want to do something different from HRC should organize their own rally.
Update: Truth Wins Out reports that Lt. Choi and others have chained themselves to the White House fence. I don't recall hearing him mention that detail to the people at the rally whom he urged to follow him to the White House.
Update 2: I believe that the woman at the HRC rally who threatened to disrupt it was Robin McGehee, one of the organizers of last October's National Equality March. She accompanied Choi to the White House.
Americablog has an item about this. One of the commenters says, why did HRC have its rally at Freedom Plaza across from the District Building instead of focusing on Congress or the White House? I can't believe I really need to point this out to someone who knew enough to mention that Freedom Plaza is across from the District Building, but hey folks the backdrop of the speakers at the HRC rally was the U.S. Capitol. Freedom Plaza is the only large space on Pennsylvania Avenue where a large rally can be held. Some people should make more of an effort to know what they are talking about before they cheaply disparage HRC.
Update 4: Metro Weekly story here.