I was quite flattered that Randy and Fenton had ask that I be one of the first to preview their new documentary film, The Strange History of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which will air on HBO September 20th. To be honest, I had some substantial trepidation about WOW’s production of this documentary. As a gay veteran of the Armed Forces who sadly has firsthand experience with the military gay witch-hunts that preceded the DADT policy, I was concerned that the documentary would be a puff piece that applauded politicians while ignoring the plights of gay and lesbian military servicemembers and the problems they continue to face.
The fact that Fenton and Randy would ask that I preview their film, knowing full well my strong views on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and my propensity to call a foul when I see it (consequences be damned), only speaks to the courage of their own convictions and the faith they have in their film. Instead of simply documenting the process of repealing the DADT policy, the film delves into the long and complex history of gay people in the military and the discriminatory views that led to the implementation of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, as well as documenting the historic effect gay soldiers had in helping to define the burgeoning ideals of gay self-identity and community in the pre-Stonewall era. While the film does highlight several politicians whose efforts were essential in the effort to repeal DADT, such as Senator Lieberman, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and Rep. Patrick Murphy; the main focus stays on the activists and activist organizations, such as Aubrey Sarvis of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, The Log Cabin Republicans whose court case against DADT was pivotal, and activist soldiers themselves, including Col. Margarethe Cammemeyer, Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, and Lt. Dan Choi.
On two different occasions, I had to pause the film and regain my composure. The emotions this documentary evoked in me as a former servicemember are still quite powerful and my own memories of being marched past my fellow soldiers in handcuffs by military police on my way to be interrogated about claims of the “perception of homosexuality” bubbled to the surface, faster than I care to admit. I, like so many other thousands of gay soldiers, were never given a chance to defend ourselves or our honor. Our service and sacrifices were ignored -to be thrown out like trash. This film finally gives a voice to the countless numbers of gay men and women who were forced to serve in silence for decades. Randy and Fenton and the WOW production staff have every right to be proud of their efforts in producing such a powerful documentary.
And though it’s difficult for me to find any fault with this film, my only criticism would be that I would’ve liked to have seen a follow up on the activist soldiers depicted in this film, as well as the issues that openly gay soldiers will continue to face even after the repeal of DADT (but as a WOW blogger, maybe that’s my job):
Col. Margarethe Cammemeyer recently officiated Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach’s retirement from the military in a ceremony under the spires of the U.S. Air Force Memorial in Arlington, VA. The Obama administration continues to appeal the federal case against DADT brought by the Log Cabin Republicans that ruled the policy unconstitutional. The Obama administration also recently engaged in a federal prosecution of former Lt. Dan Choi, although the presiding judge on the case has made a preliminary finding that there is credible evidence to allow Choi’s attorneys to present a defense of “selective” or “vindictive” prosecution. And sadly, for the thousands of gay soldiers who were the real victims of the DADT policy, the repeal does next to nothing to remedy the loss of their careers, and The New York Times recently reported that soldiers discharged through DADT are facing hurdles just to start back at square one and re-enlist. Military leaders also continue to refuse to support the inclusion of sexual orientation protections under standing military E.O. policy.