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Gay soldier finds support

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.

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.

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“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.

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“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.

Choi served for almost 10 years concealing his homosexuality. Then, when he returned from Iraq in November 2007, his boyfriend convinced him that he should no longer keep it a secret, he said.

He started telling people. Then in March, Choi founded “Knights Out,” a group of about 50 graduates from the academy who would not be allowed to talk about their sexual orientation without consequences. Shortly after, he acknowledged he is gay on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” and in an article in the Army Times, knowing that he would likely lose his job.

“There is a need for the group because in the Army we never isolate a soldier,” Choi said.

He said his fellow soldiers were supportive, telling him they didn’t care he was gay.

After finding out about the Army’s action, Choi was asked to appear on Maddow’s show again. He told the host that he was angry about the decision Thursday night.

Although soldiers have continued to be dismissed from the Army for years for the same violation of the law, some of the protesters Thursday were resting their hopes on the Obama administration’s open opposition to the policy.

“I would be hopeful that the new presidential administration would use this as an opportunity to illustrate how bad the policy is,” said Katherine Darmer, a Chapman University law professor and member of the Equality Coalition. “I mean, the man has done nothing other than state he’s gay.”

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Reporter ALAN BLANK may be reached at (714) 966-4623 or at alan.blank@latimes.com.


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