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FDL Book Salon Welcomes Aaron Belkin, How We Won: Inside Stories from the 17-Year Struggle to Repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Welcome Aaron Belkin ( and Host, Dan Choi (

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]

How We Won: Inside Stories from the 17-Year Struggle to Repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Host, Dan Choi:

The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was an all-out battle, at times tougher than combat. Military Veterans and Political Lobbyists, College Professors and Grassroots Organizers pushed the government in such a way that the issue could not be ignored, but that did not mean the coalition or the struggle was an easy one. We all learned many tough lessons about research, messaging, politics, and perseverance. The roller coaster of DADT repeal is brought to life from “the foxhole” perspective of Dr. Aaron Belkin of the Palm Center (formerly known as the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military) who has the deserved distinction and title: The Professor of The Movement.

I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Belkin early in my Coming Out journey, through some of his longtime battle buddies in the repeal movement. Hiking near Santa Barbara, California, he walked me through some basic media pitfalls and grilled me with tough questions (His training was so good, we talked our way out of a traffic ticket on the way back home. But that’s a different story altogether…) His research was unparalleled, and served as the backbone for the messaging which proved so successful, pummeling our opposition before they even spoke a word. Still, the thinly veiled bigotry of conservative pundits and anti-gay bullies was not an easy wall to penetrate. Dr. Belkin took to the airwaves with a fierce and agile weaponry, like a samurai with razor sharp swords. Actually, it was more like a charging rhinoceros herd stomping out the crusty, rotten platform upon which the conservatives stood. At every turn of the battle, Dr. Belkin crushed the opposition, even using their own weaponry against them. Many times I felt the opposition wouldn’t dare show their bludgeoned faces in public after the slayings of Dr. Belkin and company. But, like dancing Oompa-Loompa’s, they kept up their menacing charade.

So how the hell DID we win? That is the topic of the book, and the lessons are applicable to the many battle fronts of the Progressive community. Certainly Obama, like any politician, would love to take the full credit of the journey, but this book points out the truth behind Obama’s reticence and spineless wavering. So many lessons indeed: because Obama has wavered on so many political fronts, selling out progressives as if we were rented mules, it is time for us to wake up and apply the lessons of DADT Repeal: (1) Take on the enemy messaging and beat them at their own game, (2) Educate the nation with inscrutable research (3) corner the politicians, especially our “friends” so they take action (4) never give up.

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Dan Choi

Dan Choi

On March 19, 2009, Lt. Dan Choi, a West Point graduate and Iraq veteran fluent in Arabic, announced that he was gay on The Rachel Maddow Show. Because of three words – “I am gay” – Lt. Choi’s life changed forever. Despite his extreme value as an Arabic speaker able to communicate quickly and clearly with the Iraqi people, one month after his announcement Lt. Choi was notified that the Army had begun discharge proceedings against him. He was one of only eight soldiers from his graduating class who majored in Arabic.
dan choi military barracks

At West Point, Lt. Choi recited the Cadet Prayer every Sunday. It taught him to “choose the harder right over the easier wrong” and to “never be content with a half truth when the whole can be won.” The Cadet Honor Code demanded truthfulness and honesty. It imposed a zero-tolerance policy against deception, or hiding behind comfort. Following the Honor Code isn’t always easy, but honor and integrity are 24-hour values. That is why Lt. Choi refused to lie about his identity. Lt. Choi served for a decade under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: a policy that forces American soldiers to deceive and lie about their sexual orientation and forces others to tolerate deception and lying. These values are completely opposed to what he learned at West Point. Deception and lies poison a unit and cripple a fighting force.