Today is the day Lt. Dan Choi goes to legal battle with the United States.
He's facing six months in prison or a $5,000 fine for "failure to obey lawful order" when he protested the now-repealed "Don't Ask Don't Tell" (DADT) policy that banned gay people from serving openly in the military. The former Iraq veteran was the only protestor to plead not guilty from that day in November of 2010 when he and others handcuffed themselves to the gates of the White House. He's fighting to uphold his First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble and speak in a public forum.
Choi, alone, is facing the U.S. Court of Appeals on federal charges today. The 12 other activists accepted a plea deal, agreeing to a guilty plea in federal court, for which they will serve no jail time if they're not re-arrested within four months. Those 12 activists, though, are by his side today.
The gay activist who made headlines and lost his job when he came out on the "Rachel Maddow Show" in 2009 when Don't Ask Don't Tell was still in full effect, refused to plead guilty.
Evelyn Thomas, one of the 12 activists who was arrested with Choi, spoke with Campus Progress on Wednesday outside of the Supreme Court. Thomas, a former Marine, was honorably discharged after a fellow servicemember found out—and reported to an official—that she was dating a woman. Now, Thomas works with the Sanctuary Project, an outreach, activist ministry that advocates for service members and veterans impacted by DADT.
Although Thomas was attending one of the rallies protesting the Defense of Marriage Act, she said the main reason she was there was to support Lt. Choi at his trial. The presiding judge will hear final testimony on the case today. Yet, she emphasized that the trial is closely related to the Supreme Court cases on Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act this week.
"Hopefully, this is a conclusion to a full circle where LGBT people can get full equality," Thomas said of both Choi's trial and the court cases.
She emphasized the important role that young people have in the LGBT rights movement. "The youth follows the same format it did in the civil rights movement," she told Campus Progress. "It was the youth—the Southern Christian Leadership Conferece—-that actually motivated the elders of the community to get out and fight. One voice, one sound."
Thomas, a black woman, pointed out that women of color were disproportionally targeted under DADT. Less than 1 percent of service members are black women, yet they represented 3.3 percent of all DADT discharges.
She and the other activists who were arrested back in 2010, marched with supporters to the courthouse this morning. In front of the court, they spoke about their hope for Choi's trial. It was an emotional and somber event, with prayer and meditation outside of the courthouse.
"Hopefully, this is the closing of this long battle for the freedom to assemble and speak—and it's all about love."