How Dan Choi Hurts the LGBT Movement

At Netroots Nation today, Dan Choi was approached by Organizing for America volunteer Nick Tschida, an organizer at one of Minnesota's legislative districts who working hard against a proposed state constitutional amendment in Minnesota to ban same sex marriages that will be up for a popular vote in 2012. So instead of giving this man kudos and shoring up support in favor of the effort to defeat the ban, Dan Choi insulted and humiliated the OFA volunteer by ripping up his Obama poster and yelling at him. The problem? Nick Tschida mentioned that he wasn't sure he supported full marriage equality.

Watch the exchange:

Yes, it's painful to hear from one of the people who are working on our side that they are not sure of their support for marriage equality. But that is no excuse for us not to recognize the hard work people are doing to keep discrimination and bigotry from being written into the Constitutions of our states. Whether this volunteer believes in marriage equality or not, he and OFA are working hard for the cause of marriage equality by organizing against such a discriminatory amendment.

When someone is working and organizing and volunteering their time to protect our rights and to keep discrimination from being written into their state's constitution, they deserve our applause, not our scorn. Someone who is working against discrimination understands at a deep level that discrimination is wrong - so wrong, in fact, that they are willing to donate their time to work against it, even when it may not affect their personal lives. Someone like that deserves our gratitude, not the smug, condescending attitude that Dan Choi displayed. And if someone like that has to be nudged in the right direction on marriage equality, that is those who claim to be leaders in the LGBT movement should be doing - and doing it with understanding, not humiliation.

Before he blasted out at someone who is obviously a friend to the LGBT community, did Dan Choi ever stop to think that maybe he is lashing out at the wrong guy? Did Dan Choi ever take a moment and think how he, with all his celebrity, can help defeat the Minnesota marriage initiative? While he was badmouthing the President and his supporters, did he take a moment and flash through even a few of the accomplishments of this President for LGBT equality? As he sat on the panel, crassly titled "What to do when the President is not just that into you," Choi provided every reason why not only the President but anyone who wants to make progress on major issues, including equality, should not be into people like these hotheads who beat up on those who support us.

A cause is more than about one's personal feelings. I know how much it hurts to be told that someone doesn't fully support marriage equality. I know how painful it is for me that my President, whom I am so proud of and so grateful to, has not yet completed his journey to supporting full marriage. I know. But I also know that those who work on our behalf - whether it's President Obama or Nick Tschida - deserve our gratitude for their commitment.

It is easy to lash out at anyone because they do not yet support (at least publicly) full marriage equality, no matter what else they have done to stand with us. But the right thing to do is often not the easy thing to do. Those who have the dedication to help us make progress, we must know, are also making progress in their own personal lives. We must nurture that growth, not humiliate it. Likewise, in policy, an absolutist view that shuns our friends is wrong. When someone helps us make progress, we must help them make more progress, not tell them where to shove it.

I am ashamed at the behavior of Dan Choi. And Nick, I apologize to you for Dan Choi's behavior. I hope that you will continue to work for equality. Dan Choi does not represent gay activists. Dan Choi does not speak for me. I want you to support marriage equality fully, and if we ever get to talk, I will tell you why it is so important. Without you, Nick, and those who work with you at OFA in Minnesota, we cannot complete our march to equality. Without you and people like to standing on the wall to say that wherever your journey is, you will not let discrimination be written into your state's Constitution, we cannot make progress.

What Dan Choi did was counterproductive. The way he treated Nick Tschida hurts our cause. But of course, that's none of Dan's concern. Lashing out angrily and showing intolerance himself is apparently the way he believes one promotes acceptance. Our problem is that too many people mistake angry outbursts as a sign of strength, when it is nothing more than the sign of petulance. What Choi did was the epitome of weakness. Strength is graceful. Strength does not require you to bash those who are advancing equality. Strength draws people to understand why marriage is so important; it does not push them away. Strength is not about losing patience but the wisdom to work knowing that the arc of history is long and that it bends towards justice.

Apparently, Dan Choi won't vote for Obama if he does not endorse marriage equality. Fine. But I am here to tell you, Lt. Choi, that you cannot do worse damage to the LGBT rights movement than to help elect a Republican, which is where your rhetoric and scorched earth attitude, if successful, will lead. But I am also here to tell you that you will fail in that effort, because while I breathe, I hope. And I will not let you hurt our movement and my brothers and sisters. You got yourself a challenge, buddy.

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