Gay Activist Dan Choi Hospitalized for Breakdown

Stresses of fight for "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Take Toll on Iraq Vet.

Dec. 16, 2010— -- The stress of being the gay soldier who publicly challenged the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law -- facing the inevitable scrutiny that comes with being an activist -- may have become too much for Lt. Dan Choi.

Last Friday, 29-year-old Choi was admitted to the psychiatric ward at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Brockton, Mass., telling supporters in an e-mail that he had experienced a "breakdown and anxiety attack."

Those close to Choi said he would likely be released today or Friday. He did not return telephone calls and e-mails from

Choi, who had chained himself to the White House fence three times in protest of the law that bans gays from openly serving in the military, said all veterans carry "human burdens."

He wrote on friend Pam Spaulding's website, Pam's House Blend, that he had been betrayed by "elected leaders and gay organizations as well as many who have exploited my name."

When ABC Radio contacted Choi in his hospital room Wednesday, Choi said only, "It's not easy," sounding glum, according to reporter Steve Portnoy.

Choi claimed that he had been involuntarily committed, but a spokesman for the Massachusetts Office of Health and Human Services was not immediately able to comment.

Dr. Una McCann, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University and director of the anxiety disorder program, said hospital emergency rooms can legally hold a patient for 72 hours if they are deemed a danger to themselves, to others or are incompetent.

After three days, only a judge can order a hospital stay without a patient's permission.

"He either said, 'Yes, I want to be admitted, I really need the rest,' or he got to the [psychiatric] ward and didn't like it and wanted to leave," said McCann, who has not treated Choi.

"The psychiatric team may have said, 'Not so fast,'" she said.

A nervous breakdown is an umbrella term for a number of conditions: depression, psychosis, but most often anxiety disorders, according to McCann.

"Some people develop such severe anxiety, they can't function," she said.

"My guess is that [Choi] has something in his genes or in his background of either being depressed or anxious," said McCann. "The campaign he has been waging has been extra stressful and my guess is he has not been getting sleep and it has influenced his ability to cope."

Serving in the military and being gay could also have been a big stress, she said. "Who knows if he was bullied as a kid - all these things affect who you are. Unless you have a supportive environment it may have been a struggle growing up."

Those in the gay community who knew Choi said being in the spotlight and traversing the country staying with friends, as well as the inevitable "hate" that comes with activism had contributed to his breakdown.

Being Gay Can Be Challenging

"There is an impact good and bad," said Cathy Renna, managing partner in Renna Communications who specializes in LGBT issues. "It's very difficult and very emotional and he has added challenges."

"Can you imagine being rejected by family and then the military family?" she asked. "We really feel for him. You see a mixed range of opinions about Dan Choi, but from an activist perspective, he is an amazing voice. It's a hard thing to do and it certainly takes its toll."

Others said that discouragement over the Senate's failure to overturn DADT last week was a significant factor in Choi's hospitalization.

On Dec. 9, after the Senate blocked the repeal of DADT, Choi tweeted, "Today is a very painful day. I simply advise you to never stop fighting." The bill to repeal has now passed the House and will soon be debated in the Senate. LGBT supporters say they are optimistic about its passage.

On Wednesday, the House voted 250-175 to repeal the 17-year-old policy. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has threatened to keep the upper chamber in session through the holiday recess in order to make sure that a vote on that measure takes place.

In March, the provocative and omnipresent Choi chained himself to the White House fence and was arrested with former Army Captain James Pietrangelo to protest DADT. He spent the night in prison.

A West Point graduate and Iraq veteran and Arabic speaker, Choi served for a decade in the Army. But in 2009 in violation of DADT, he announced on "The Rachel Maddow Show," "I am gay," and one month later the Army began discharge proceedings.

Choi is a founding member of Knights Out, a group of LGBT graduates of West Point and their "allies."

Its executive director, Sue Fulton, said, "Dan is both a hero and a human being. He has exhausted himself in the pursuit of justice."

Supporters Send E-Mails to Dan Choi

Fulton stressed that she was not a "spokesman" for Choi, who has not talked to the press directly since his hospitalization.

'I don't think anyone can imagine what this guy went through coming back from Iraq," said Fulton.

Since leaving the military, Choi had no permanent home and had been staying with other activists around the country. Choi, an Orange County, Calif., native, was in Massachusetts when he had the breakdown.

Choi also broke up with his partner earlier this year, according to Fulton.

"He came out as an activist and chose to pursue this path," she said. "But despite what haters would say, I knew Dan before this. He never expected or sought celebrity. It was unintentionally thrust upon him. I don't know anyone who could stand up to that pressure."

Fulton, who graduated in 1980 from West Point in the first class that admitted women, said the stress is particularly tough in the LGBT community. One of her classmates suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome under the duress of keeping her sexuality under wraps.

"All people in this community of sexual minorities are the target of hate or discrimination or rejection by families and friends," she said.

She served in the Army's signal corps until 1986, lying when asked "point blank" in an investigation of a fellow soldier if she were a lesbian.

"I have carried that guilt and shame for over two decades," she said. "That, compared to the kind of harassment that happens to many in our community, especially gay male solders, pales in comparison. So I know how deep the shame is."

In the meantime, Choi has been barraged with "thousands" of e-mails and phone calls, according to Fulton, but has ignored them.

"He's taking care of himself," she said. "He's doing the right thing by staying unplugged."