Home » Action, Civil Rights, Photography, Politics
15 November 2010, 10:00 am 2 Comments

Events: The Photographed Faces of DADT

This post was submitted by Troy Chatterton

Joseph Rocha, Washington D.C., 2010

On Wednesday, I received the assignment to cover photographer Vincent Cianni’s talk about his new project ‘Gays In the Military: How America Thanked Me.’ The seed of anticipation was planted.

On Thursday, I set off for the city, but before getting on the subway, stopped at the Outpost Café for a cup of coffee. As I waited in line – a book caught my eye, sticking out of the magazine rack. It was a copy of ‘Unfriendly Fire’ by Nathaniel Frank – with a blue piece of paper jutting out of its pages. It was a note from Nathan, thanking the Outpost Café for its hospitality while he wrote most of the manuscript in the café.

Once in the city, I found myself walking along Washington Square Park weaving through the many students and young adults dressed in their military uniforms.  A spirit of pride and excitement was in the air. And I couldn’t help imagine what the scene would look like, sound like, and feel like – when gay men and women can openly serve in the military. I will tell you this, it will be nothing less of resplendent. The Veterans Day Parade will be turned in to an Autumn Gay Pride Parade.  It will mark the beginning of a new model of who a gay man or lesbian can be.

On Friday, I woke up to the New York Time’s headline, ‘Little Harm Found if Gay Ban Is Lifted.’ After all the lives that have been smothered, we learn, what many have known all along. Little harm! Nathaniel Frank asked in his books prologue, “What has been the cost of openly gay service to military effectiveness? Answer: It hasn’t sapped the military, and the costs have been nil.”

Nathaniel also writes that “The military’s policy on gays and lesbians has been transformed from a residual hodgepodge of a bygone era to a carefully articulated modern legal morass that wreaks havoc with the lives of service members and with the capacity of our nation to defend itself – all courtesy of an administration that promised it would make things better.”

And so I arrive on Sunday, at powerHouse Books. Roughly 30 have come. And while Mr. Cianni sets up, a quote is projected on to the wall:

“I am a soldier. I am a gay man. I believe there is no greater honor than to serve in uniform. I cannot tell my name.” – anonymous soldier

Mr. Cianni says from the start that his project is not about “don’t ask, don’t tell.” It is about the ban on homosexuals in the military. Sparked by an interview on the radio with Pvt. Nathanael Bodon’s mother, Mary Bodon – he was moved by her love, support, and certainty that her son would be okay.  And so since November 2009 he has been interviewing gay service members who are long retired, discharged, or still active. Mr. Cianni’s focus seems to be on the effect of invisibility, forced dishonesty, loss of dignity, shame, chronic fear, and as one soldier said, “dreams being crushed.”

Mr. Cianni has chosen to photograph almost all of his subjects in their homes, and shot in black and white. In keeping with his interest in the mental cost of this ban on homosexuality in the military – he gives these men and women an opportunity to speak. Audio of his interviews are played and we hear, in their own words, the effect this ban has had on their lives.

It is in Joseph Rocha’s (pictured above) pleading words that the heart of the matter is simply articulated. “People have the right of a human relationship. Having a human aspect to my life.”

There is no joy in Mr. Cianni’s work. How could there be? DADT literally stripped gay men and lesbians of their full humanity. Although I would argue that many along the way refused to be completely stripped and found their humanity and joy in spite of this policy.

What Mr. Cianni has done, is incredibly important, he has given these men and women an opportunity for their voices to be heard, and their stories told. It is hard difficult truth. It is a painful progress that seems necessary for what comes next. Joy?

There will be a day in the coming years when the front pages of every newspaper across America are filled with joyful faces.

There will come an October day in the coming years when gay soldiers march down 5th Avenue with their heads held high – and on that day, and like the soldiers, America will be more fully itself.

Note: Mr. Cianni has kindly allowed The New Gay to be the first to publish the photo above of Joseph Rocha.

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