A National Guardsman who became a cause celebre among gay-rights groups last year, after announcing on The Rachel Maddow Show that he is gay and being recommended for discharge, has returned to training with his unit.
The move doesn’t appear to be evidence of an explicit policy change on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, but it does count as more potential evidence of a shift in attitude in military circles.
Last June, Dan Choi announced on MSNBC that he was gay, prompting a National Guard board to recommend that he be discharged under the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. Though the discharge was never finalized, Choi, an outspoken advocate for the repeal of DADT, hadn’t been with his unit since then — until this weekend.
The news of Choi’s return was first reported on the website Bilerico.
It appears that the development was prompted, if indirectly, by the increasing likelihood that DADT is on the way out.
Sue Fulton, an activist with Knights Out, an organization of gay West Point graduates, explained to TPMmuckraker that Choi’s commanding officer decided that while Choi’s case was pending — as it still is — he should be temporarily “excused” from Guard duty. “The officer said, ‘You have a lot of other stuff going on, go do those things,’” said Fulton.
But last week — amid news reports that senior military figures supported ending DADT — Choi was contacted by the commanding officer, who invited him to rejoin the unit.
Fulton surmises that the commanding officer invited Choi back because, like many observers, he had come to believe that DADT may well be repealed, and therefore that Choi might not ultimately be discharged. “I would view it as a recognition by his unit that Dan’s discharge may, after all, NOT be confirmed by the Army,” she said.
Fulton stressed, though, that it’s unlikely that the decision was made by anyone higher in the chain of command. “National Guard commanders have wide latitude in terms of their units,” she said. “This is not a change in Army policy, nor any action from ‘higher headquarters’ that we are aware of.”
The military isn’t saying exactly what triggered the move. “He’s been on duty,” Eric Durr, a spokesman for the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs, which oversees the New York National Guard, told TPMmuckraker. “He has never left the National Guard.” Durr referred all questions on DADT to the Department of Defense.
And in an email to TPMmuckraker, Choi explained his return to his unit by saying simply that he rejoined “because we needed to train on critical infantry skills for a possible upcoming deployment.”
Choi warned that he may still be on shaky ground. “Good to be back with my unit,” he wrote, but added, “although I can still be fired at any moment for DADT.”