Hunger Strike Planned: Why It’s Too Early for Opponents of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to Celebrate

It was what gay advocates and opponents to the military’s law banning openly gay soldiers had been anxiously waiting: by early evening Thursday Congress was taking action to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
“The importance of this vote cannot be overstated – this is the beginning of the end of a shameful ban on open service by lesbian and gay troops that has weakened our national security,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “The stars are aligning to finally restore honor and integrity to those who serve our country so selflessly.” The Human Rights Campaign was one of a handful of organizations that met with lawmakers on the Hill and with aides to Obama on Monday to hammer out the quick-paced compromise.  
Yet Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell still has a tough fight ahead.

Critics of the compromise, including Lt. Dan Choi, a leading figure in fight to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, warn of complacency. Choi told Newsweek late Thursday that he and Captain James Pietrangelo would be embarking on a hunger strike to ensure that firings of servicemembers stop immediately and that the repeal be implemented now,  not months—or even longer—down the line. “This is not time to celebrate. I don’t think people see how serious this is.” Choi and Pietrangelo have taken part is several civil disobedience actions to protest the law, with more such actions likely in addition to a hunger strike.

In an open letter exclusive to Newsweek, Choi posed questions to President Obama for embarking on a compromise that does not give a firm date for an end to the law. “Under your compromise, when will the discharges end? How long can we ask gay service members to live a lie? How long can we deny existence to their families? How long do we need to study the injustice in order to understand that discrimination is un-American?”

It is not just the lack of a firm timetable that worries advocates like Choi. Republicans including John McCain have said they would support a filibuster of the Defense Authorization Bill, where the repeal language is expected to be inserted, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates has only expressed lukewarm support for the congressional action, which is months ahead of the Pentagon’s own task force December 1st deadline to present to Congress its work on the effects of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell on troop readiness and recruitment.