BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
U.S. Army Lt. Dan Choi was proud to serve his country, proud to announce on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show that he's gay and proud that last month he chained himself to a White House fence to protest "don't ask, don't tell."
Add another source of pride: to be a grand marshal at Saturday's second annual Miami Beach Gay Pride parade on Ocean Drive.
"I think it's wonderful. That's a strength of our community. That's what I celebrate," said Choi, 29, an Arabic linguist fighting to stay in the military. ``However, there are a lot of reasons why we're not in a celebratory mood. There's a deep feeling of resentment for being second-class citizens."
The pride committee has prepared for 30,000 revelers to gather Saturday on the beach off Ocean Drive. Choi will be grand marshal along with Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning TV star Sharon Gless of Fisher Island.
Choi's high-profile White House protest on March 18 wasn't just against "don't ask, don't tell." He also mocked a competing Washington rally sponsored by Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay-rights group, which featured comedienne Kathy Griffin.
"It's great to have any celebrity," Choi said. "[But President Barack Obama] is the only celebrity who can really do something about it."
This week, Out magazine named Choi No. 28 on its 2010 annual list of 50 most powerful gay people: "He clashed with the HRC among other gay groups when he was arrested for chaining himself to the White House gates in March, Choi continues to be the U.S.'s most outspoken serviceman."
Choi's brash approach resonated with committee members planning the 2010 Miami Beach Gay Pride festival.
"This year at our annual retreat, our board decided to go after -- rather than celebrities in Hollywood -- people who've contributed in a civic manner to our community," board chairman Babak Movahedi said. "Dan certainly has been the spokesman for repeal of `don't ask, don't tell' and plays a very important role in the LGBT community. We're very excited he's going to join us at Pride."
Walker Burttschell, a gay Marine who was outed and discharged in 2002, says "it's awesome'' that Choi will be at the parade.
"He's bringing attention to the issue. I've never met him, but I think it's a good move," said Burttschell, 27, of Miami Beach, a temporary consultant for Human Rights Campaign in its attempt to repeal "don't ask, don't tell."
Choi's White House confrontation with HRC wasn't his first. Last fall, he helped organize a last-minute gay March on Washington that at first didn't have HRC's blessing. Using the Internet and social networking sites like Facebook, a grassroots network of angry young gay activists managed to turn out an estimated 200,000 protesters on Oct. 11, 2009.
"What we have realized is that there is a disconnect, a schism between those traditional power brokers who purport to represent our community in Washington and the people on the ground," Choi said. "The people on the ground -- the grassroots -- for a long time have said if you have access to the president you demand equality. Demand respect. And don't come back and try to mollify us."
Choi, the son of a Baptist minister, said he spent 10 years as a closeted gay soldier before outing himself in March 2009 on Rachel Maddow's TV program.
"At first I thought it was a choice. You could pray the gay away. A lot of times I thought about having a fake wedding," Choi said. "Then here I was in Iraq, saying we were going to build their government. It built up, the hypocrisy of me telling the people in Iraq one thing and coming home and me not being able to tell people who I am."
IF YOU GO
- What: Miami Beach Gay Pride
- Where: Parade runs along Ocean Drive from 5th through 15th streets; festival at Lummus Park on Ocean Drive from 10th through 14th streets
- When: Noon to 7 p.m.
- Cost: Free
- Complete schedule and information: www.miamibeachgaypride.com
Caption: Dan Choi speaks during "A Call To Action In D.C." rally at the Freedom Plaza on March 18, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images)