Voices of Courage: Lt. Dan Choi, Cleve Jones & Rick Jacobs

August 18, 2009 in Personalities & Profiles | Comments (0)


I attended a small Courage Campaign fundraiser in San Francisco on August 17, 2009. I sat down in the living room waiting for Cleve Jones & Rick Jacobs to speak, when I felt someone sit down next to me. I turned. It was Lieutenant Dan Choi.
I’ll get to that part in a minute but first some business.
Over the last several weeks, maybe even couple of months, I’ve been growing distressed. Things seemed to be falling apart. As I’ve written before, the LGBT community likes to beat up on itself. We’re very good at ripping each other to pieces. After the devastating loss on Proposition 8 in November 2008, we seemed to finally have a common goal and an ever-so-tenuous detente seemed to form.
In the last month or so I’ve watched with dismay as it seemingly started to unravel. As everyone began to debate – 2010 or 2012 – with the lines seeming to draw cleanly between “old guard” (EQCA and co.) and “new guard” (the myriad grassroots organizations) the voices began to raise. Every email list I’m on, every conversation I had – the finger pointing was back and the vitriol more potent than ever.
It made me sick.
But I knew there was hope, and it’s mostly due to the Courage Campaign. Now let me be clear – I don’t work for them, I don’t answer to them, and there are definitely things they do with which I have some issue. That said, I have felt that perhaps because they are not primarily an LGBT group, instead being a general progressive political organization, that somehow they have a bit more credence in my book. They don’t have the same kind of agenda, perhaps that other groups do.
So when I had the chance to talk with Rick at this event, I asked him what he thought about what was next. He had this to say:

And then there was Cleve.

If you don’t know who he is, all you need to do is see the film Milk. Harvey Milk “recruited” Cleve off the streets of San Francisco to lead the charge in community organizing. He is a master.
In this video (the first of two) he talks about Harvey, he talks about reaching across divides and into communities, he talks about why Prop 8 failed, and begins a clarion call:

Then my Kodak Zi-6* ran out of memory. That’s what I get for not clearing it out ahead of time. Thankfully I never leave home without at least one back up, and so thanks to my Nokia N97*, I captured this last part … which really drives home a critical part of the issue that MUST be addressed.
And when he’s done … he introduced Dan, who tells the story of his experiences and his coming out to his family.
(The detail-oriented gal in me must apologize for the “one of these things is not like the other” mismatch on the players. YouTube rejected this particular clip because it was too long)

What the LGBT movement needs to succeed: Words from Cleve Jones and Lt. Dan Choi from Cathy Brooks on Vimeo.

Now … about that Lt. Dan Choi.
For starters, he’s adorable.
Nice to know that he can probably also field strip an automatic weapon.
We chatted a bit as the presentation was about to begin and then fell quiet as Cleve stood up and began to talk.
After about 10 minutes, it was Dan’s turn. He got up to speak and shared a story about coming out to his family, and how a key component to his ‘fessing up was the fact that in not telling them, he was lying. And in lying he was being dishonorable – something that clearly goes against the very grain of his being. His pain is palpable. He relates the story, his eyes alternating between glossy with tears, and slightly contracted in grimace. Then he pauses, breathes, and a smile crosses his face. As palpable as that pain had been a moment before, so too is the evidence of his true courage then seen.
Later,in a quiet moment after he had finished, I asked him, “So when you have those moments when you feel overwhelmed, when you doubt whether or not you can go on… what do you do?”
He talks about that in this video.

What all this says to me is very simple.
No more complaining.
No more finger pointing.
Shut up … and do the work.
*Disclosure: One of my consulting clients is Nokia. The N97 that I am using was given to me through that work. I do not review products, nor am I obligated by Nokia to promote their products.
The Kodak Zi-6 was part of a “swag bag” given to attendees of an event at the recent BlogHer Conference in Chicago.


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