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Dan Choi, latest victim of “Don’t ask, don’t tell”

Written By: daveski on May 10, 2009 3 Comments

Many of you may have seen this or even written about it (wink) but for those who haven’t, it seems backwards thinking of the 20th century has carried well into the 21st: There’s been coverage recently of the U.S. Army’s recent dismissal of Lt. Dan Choi, an openly gay Arabic “linguist” who had served in Iraq. In a series of two interviews on MSNBC (his audio feed ‘mysteriously’ cut out in the middle of his first), Choi made the point that by uttering the words “I am gay”, he was violating the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, under which speech about one’s own sexual orientation is treated as a threatening form of  “conduct”. Here’s the relevant passage from the “The Pentagon’s New Policy Guidelines on Homosexuals in the Military”, from 1993 when Don’t ask, don’t tell was started, cited in the Wikipedia article linked above:

Sexual orientation will not be a bar to service unless manifested by homosexual conduct. The military will discharge members who engage in homosexual conduct, which is defined as a homosexual act, a statement that the member is homosexual or bisexual, or a marriage or attempted marriage to someone of the same gender.

Berkeley’s own Judith Butler, among others, has pointed out that there are serious problems not only with the intent of the policy at a fundamental level, but also with equating “speech” to “conduct”. Put simply, how is uttering words that are (or which might be construed by others) revealing of one’s own sexual orientation an act that can possibly threaten others?

In calling publicly for the elimination of “Don’t ask, don’t tell”, Choi made the point that this policy is in effect “asking soldiers to lie”, which is in itself a violation of military conduct. For more on Choi and this movement, check out Knights Out, the “Organization of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender US Military Academy Alumni and their Supporters” that estimates there are 65,000 gay and lesbian members of the armed forces.

  • Language Log post about the issue here with many comments from their language community, including the ever-present criticism of the institutionalized misuse of the term “linguist” to mean “translator” and/or “interpreter”
  • Huffington Post article here (with hat tipped as always to UsreeB)

Any more news on this?

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3 Responses to “Dan Choi, latest victim of “Don’t ask, don’t tell””

  1. Usree Bhattacharya on: 11 May 2009 at 10:58 am

    Appreciate the tipped hat. heh. I thought several times about blogging about this topic here, but never got around to it. Thanks for posting this!

    The interview was fascinating:

    Obama made a clear commitment to repeal DADT, and it seems that things will change, but the pace appears to be glacial.

    Butler’s words on DADT are worth revisiting:

    “the statement…’I am a homosexual,’ is fabulously misconstrued…A claim that is, in the first instance, reflexive, that attributes a status to only oneself, is taken to be solicitous…to hear the utterance is to ‘contract’ the sexuality to which it refers…This is a statement construed as a solicitation; a constative taken as an interrogative; a self-ascription taken as an address.” (p.113)

    Statement=solicitation. In what other contexts does this happen? Why?

    As far as language log’s use of scare quotes goes, I laughed out loud at Peter’s response:

    #peter said,
    May 8, 2009 @ 6:14 pm

    If “linguist”, then shouldn’t that be “Language” “Log”?

  2. Usree Bhattacharya on: 12 May 2009 at 8:44 pm

    Follow up: Choi just published an open letter to Obama and every member of Congress. Read it here.

  3. tim wolcott on: 14 May 2009 at 12:13 pm

    From the Courage Campaign:

    > Hi,
    >
    > Did you know that the military is still discharging soldiers for being
    > openly gay?
    >
    > One of these soldiers is California’s own Lt. Dan Choi. In March he went
    > on Rachel Maddow’s show and spoke honestly about his sexual orientation.
    > As a result in April the Army sent him a letter of discharge. Lt. Choi is
    > fighting the discharge and fighting the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t
    > Tell” policy.
    >
    > I just signed a petition from the Courage Campaign to President Obama,
    > urging him to do the right thing by stopping the discharge of Lt. Dan Choi
    > and other LGBT soldiers, and asking President Obama to uphold his promise
    > to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” They are going to deliver it to the
    > president and it’s important that as many people as possible speak out
    > right now.
    >
    > Will you join me in signing and urge your friends to do the same?:
    >
    > http://www.couragecampaign.org/DontFireDan
    >
    > Thanks!
    >

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