Dan Choi
2011 Icon


b. February 22, 1981

“Action and sacrifice speak much more loudly than the best crafted, eloquent speech.”

Lt. Dan Choi is a West Point graduate, Iraq War veteran and Arabic linguist. He was the nation’s leading activist for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT).

Choi was born in Orange County, California, and raised in an evangelical Korean-American household. His father is a Baptist minister; his mother is a nurse. Inspired by the film “Saving Private Ryan,” Choi decided to attend West Point.

After graduating from West Point with degrees in Arabic linguistics and environmental engineering, Choi served as an Army infantry officer in Iraq. In 2008 he transferred from active duty to the Army National Guard. That same year, Choi and a group of West Point alumni founded Knights Out, an organization supporting the rights of LGBT soldiers.

In 2009 Choi appeared on the “The Rachel Maddow Show” and said something that would change his life forever: “I am gay.”  Within a month, the U.S. Army notified him that he was being discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” When he received his discharge papers, Choi knew he had to fight back. He wrote an open letter asking President Obama to repeal the policy and reinstate him, calling his discharge “a slap in the face.”

Choi sent his West Point graduation ring to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It was a reminder to the senator of a promise he made to repeal the ban on gays and lesbians in the military.

Choi became the leading activist and national spokesman for the repeal of DADT. His media savvy drew attention to the issue. In 2010 he was arrested three times for handcuffing himself to the White House fence during protests.

Later in 2010 Choi was invited to the White House to witness President Obama signing the repeal of  “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Afterward, Senator Reid invited Choi to his office, where he returned Choi’s West Point ring. “The next time I get a ring from a man,” Choi responded, “I expect it to be for full, equal American marriage.”

Choi resides in New York City and continues to advocate for LGBT civil rights and veterans’ health benefits. He is a recipient of Equality Forum's 2011 International Role Model Award.