After months and years of delay, in 2011 President Obama finally scrapped all restrictions on lesbian and gay people serving in the US armed forces. But only after a series of dramatic civil disobedience protests outside the White House, involving a young gay Korean American soldier.
This Thursday, 28 March, at 9am in the US District Court, Washington DC, gay Army Lieutenant Dan Choi, Arabic linguist, West Point graduate and Iraq war veteran, stands trial for his past protests against the since repealed anti-gay military policy 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' (DADT).
In 2010 Choi was dismissed from the US Army National Guard after coming out as gay on the Rachel Maddow TV show.
He was then billed by the US Defense Department for $2,500 for failing to fulfill his military contract. Choi is refusing to pay.
Lt Choi's fight for justice is backed by Jesse Jackson, Margaret Cho, Al Sharpton, Robin Tyler, Cleve Jones, Bill McKibben, Fred Karger, Jane Hamsher, Professor Jonathan Turley and many others.
In 2010, to protest against his dismissal, and against President Obama's failure to repeal DADT, Choi handcuffed himself to the White House fence three times. These protests help force the issue of DADT up the political agenda at a time when the Oval Office and Congress were dragging their heels on repeal.
Choi explained why he resorted to direct action methods: "We knew that presidential leadership was critical to civil rights and military service. Our Commander In Chief finally led only after we used the same tactics of Alice Paul, the Suffragettes, African American civil rights protestors, and many other identity groups that have won their equality through sacrifice."
Three years after Choi's handcuffing protests, the US Federal Attorney's Office refuses to dismiss the charges against him. The prosecution is being pursued by Assistant US Attorney, Angela S. George.
Normally, White House protestors are arrested and required to pay $100 fine to a municipal court, the equivalent of a parking ticket in the District of Columbia. Instead, in this case, the US Attorney's Office is invoking a much more serious, seldom-used federal level criminal charge called 'Failure to Obey'.
Lt Choi says the prosecution is unjustified and is being used to block his reinstatement in the army, now that DADT has been abolished: "The charge is baseless. It assumes traffic was blocked, but there is no traffic to block on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The main reason for this charge is to prevent me from re-joining the military, to paint me as simply disobedient. It prevents my rejoining (the military) in a vindictive waste of resources. I stand trial to assert my rights and the rights of all to be treated equally under the law," said Choi.
Choi's case is the first time since anti-Iraq war protester Cindy Sheehan was prosecuted, that a protestor has been tried federally for demonstrating at the White House.
Sheehan said: "Dan Choi served his country and stood up for something bigger when he got home - and they still prosecute him for making a difference. This is insane."
National Security Agency whistleblower, US navy and air force veteran, Thomas Drake, added: "This is yet another sad example of the federal government overstepping their bounds against critics they do not like."
The trial Judge, John M. Facciola, has already made a prima facie finding of "vindictive prosecution" in Lt. Choi's case, prompting the prosecution to make legal history by pausing the trial for two years and embroiling Lt. Choi in a Writ of Mandamus fight.
Until this trial, such a radical and rarely used writ has never been granted in the middle of criminal proceedings.
The writ, which the prosecution was granted, orders the trial judge not to hear evidence concerning the selective prosecution and political targeting of the defendant - despite Facciola's original finding that it appeared to be a vindictive prosecution.
Lt. Choi, undeterred, remarked: "On Thursday I make my full argument for history to hear."
Faced with a homophobic military policy at the time, and no progress on ending DADT, he still believes it was right to come out and take direct action.
The prosecution of Choi has more than a whiff of petty, vindictive prosecution. Just look at the facts. He was arrested for protesting peacefully against a homophobic military policy that is now repealed. By so doing, he helped draw public attention to a grave injustice and contributed to it being ended.
Dan is a human rights hero. It makes no sense to continue with his trial. This prosecution is morally wrong and a pointless waste of taxpayers' dollars.
There is also a glaring inconsistency in prosecution policy. Of all the many people arrested for chaining themselves to the White House railings, why is only Dan Choi is facing a federal charge and up to six months in prison? This violates the principle of equality for everyone before the law.
It looks like Lt Choi is being singled out for selective prosecution; possibly motivated by a desire to silence a person who is seen as a political embarrassment to the White House.
Choi is not a typical acquiescent US soldier. He is a progressive, thinking serviceman. Highly critical of aspects of US military policy, he has been a vocal supporter of whistleblower Bradley Manning; arguing that he is a true patriot for exposing war crimes, asserting the public's right to know and holding the government to account.
On Thursday, Lt. Choi will represent himself in court. He has often proceeded his legal cases without lawyers. In his six arrests to date, the government lost five prosecutions but this federal criminal trial carries the harshest maximum punishment: six months in a federal prison and a $5,000 fine.
However, according to Lt. Choi, he has already suffered the greatest punishment of all: being prevented from reinstatement in the US army.
Undeterred, he still intends to reenlist once this trial is finished: "Serving in the military taught me certain skills and while I never wanted to be an activist, when I did speak up I learned what my military service was all about. Being a soldier makes me a better activist, and being an activist makes me a better soldier," said Choi.
Supporters will attend a rally outside the courthouse at 8am this Thursday, evoking the spirit of non-violent direct action. The prosecutor has been invited to attend.
* For more information about Peter Tatchell's human rights campaigns: www.PeterTatchell.net
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