Editor's note: This is an open letter to the LGBT community from Dan Choi, former Army lieutenant recently discharged under the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
Saturday was a big day for the LGBT community.
Both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., participated in moderated conversations at Netroots Nation, an annual gathering of progressive online activists. As a result of pressure from the LGBT community as well as efforts within and around Netroots Nation, both Reid and Pelosi offered opening remarks that mentioned the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT). They did not have to address both of these legislative items, but they did, a clear signal that we -- together -- have gotten their attention and must continue to keep up the pressure.
Speaker Pelosi dodged the question that moderator Cheryl Contee asked her about ENDA. But Majority Leader Reid was unable to dodge moderator Joan McCarter's presentation of my West Point ring to him, along with a copy of the discharge papers I received this week.
Watch the video of the moment here: www.getequal.org/returnthering
In March 2009, I came out publicly as a gay man serving in the military -- last week, that statement cost me my job. Although I am now a civilian -- repealing DADT remains one of my highest priorities, but passing ENDA is also a chief way to protect the LGBT community from heinous job discrimination. Job loss from our government's policy of DADT is wrong, just as not offering equal employment protections for LGBT people is wrong -- discrimination is discrimination.
As Joan explained to Sen. Reid, I did not give the ring as a gift -- I gave it to him as a reminder of the career that DADT destroyed last week. Although that ring represents an earned symbol of my time at West Point, at this moment it means NOTHING without repeal. I have no use of a ring that reminds me of the homophobia written into our laws -- written into the laws of a country that I have fought for and that many of my friends have died for.
Across this country, LGBT people experience discrimination every day -- more lives have been impacted and more careers have been destroyed than just mine. But I'm not going to stand by without a fight...and neither is GetEQUAL.
The repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is within sight, but we've got to keep Sen. Reid accountable to his promise to return my ring this year when the policy is repealed. We've also got to keep other elected officials accountable to their promises to protect the right of LGBT Americans to work without discrimination by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Join me in demanding the repeal of DADT this year: www.getequal.org/returnthering
Thank you for supporting me through what has been one of the toughest times of my life. I couldn't have done this work without the support of this community, and I look forward to the fights ahead of us.
All the best,
Lt. Dan Choi
Discharged from the U.S. Army under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"