Serving America in Silence: Cianni’s, Gays in the Military

Alexandra Temblador

By Alexandra Temblador

Dustin Hiersekorn and Zachary Werth, Boise, ID 2011

Dustin Hiersekorn and Zachary Werth, Boise, ID 2011

Gays serving in the military is not something new in American history. The first gay person discharged from the U.S. military was Lieutenant Gotthold Frederick Enslin in 1778 by General George Washington. From 1917 to 2010 when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed, there were regulations and laws that denied gays from serving openly in the United States military. For over two hundred years gays have bravely sacrificed and suffered so that they could serve a country they love. Although they served in silence, their service has been heard and is depicted in documentary photographer’s Vincent Cianni’s new book, Gays in the Military.

Joseph Rocha , Washington, D.C. 2010

Joseph Rocha , Washington, D.C. 2010

Traveling over 10,000 miles over a span of 21 trips across the United States from 2009 to 2013, Cianni interviewed and photographed 120 active duty service members and veterans for Gays in the Military. Published by Daylight Books, Gays in the Military sought “to document how the military’s ban on openly gay and lesbian service personnel, which ended just two and a half years ago, impacted their careers in the armed forces and their civilian lives afterwards.”

Heather Davies and Shane Walley, Round Rock, TX 2010

Heather Davies and Shane Walley, Round Rock, TX 2010

In 1993, President Clinton signed into law “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” when he failed to receive support for allowing gays to serve openly in the military. The law denied gays and lesbians the right of stating their sexual orientation, from engaging in sexual activity, and required that officers and personnel refrain from asking military men and women about their sexual orientation. Ironically, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was meant to be a way of allowing homosexuals to serve in the military but obviously under discriminatory and unjustifiable measures. More than 13,000 military men and women were discharged under this policy until it was repealed in 2010 by President Obama.

Matt McCary and David Cochenic, Orange Park, FL 2011

Matt McCary and David Cochenic, Orange Park, FL 2011

Gays in the Military, through vividly moving photographs of servicemen and women and veterans, shares the stories of many who served in silence, were discriminated against and at times abused because of their sexual orientation. Many were denied benefits that other military personnel received and some were discharged from service for being homosexual. The book also features essays by Alison Nordstrom, Don Bramer and Alan Steinman which “shed light on the cultural, personal and political consequences of the ban on homosexuality.”

Katie Miller, New Haven, CT 2010

Katie Miller, New Haven, CT 2010

In addition to this book, Cianni gave a TEDx Talk on Gays in the Military at the University of Nevada which was recorded and can be found on YouTube. Cianni’s TEDx Talk is powerful in a similar and yet different way than his book. During the talk you not only see photographs that are featured in the book but you actually have a chance to hear the men and women that Cianni interviewed share a part of their history under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and it is quite impactful. If anything this fifteen-minute video is a must-watch for it allows everyone around the world to hear personal accounts from men and women and the things they endured while they continued to serve in honor of a country that did not recognize or respect them for their service under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Ken Shepperd, San Antonio, TX 2011

Ken Shepperd, San Antonio, TX 2011

It’s 2015 and we are in a new era, an era where gays can serve openly in the military. We know that a majority of Americans support gays in the military. However, as Cianni’s Gays in the Military reminds us, we cannot forget this part of our history, when men and women were forced to serve silently and were treated unequally. By remembering and honoring, we can hopefully ensure that America does not allow this type of thing to happen in any aspect of our society toward any group of people again.

Matt McCary and David Cochenic, Orange Park, FL 2011

Matt McCary and David Cochenic, Orange Park, FL 2011

 

 

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