Jess, Bend Oregon- Cover of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell by Jeff Sheng, the first photobook featuring the portraits and emails of closeted service members in the United States military who are still serving and are affected by the laws that mandate the discharge of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-identified soldiers.
Photographer and Los Angeles native Jeff Sheng has taken on the plight of Mike, John, David, Natalie, Rico, Alexander, Craig, Matt, Jess, Anthony, Harold, Charles, Mark, Catalina, Nick, Kenneth, and Glynn and Celine—just a handful of the estimated 65,000 LGBT soldiers serving their country today. Another million are gay veterans.
Yet, as one husband of a gay soldier serving in Iraq wrote in an email to President Obama, “The day he deployed, I dropped him off far from his base’s main gate, and he walked alone in the dark and the rain to report for duty. Where the rest of his buddies were surrounded by spouses and children at mobilization ceremonies, he stood by himself.”
“I wanted to bring light to this incredible injustice,” says Sheng, in his Culver City studio. “This is open discrimination by a government founded on the equality of all.” About two soldiers a day are being discharged for being gay. This, as Sheng says, when we need trained and talented soldiers more than ever. “We’re losing medics, linguists, highly trained soldiers. When you’re lying somewhere injured from battle, you don’t care if the person saving you is gay, straight, nothing. You only want to live.”
And the penalties for admitting to being gay is brutal. In addition to being banned from ever again serving in the military, this from an email in the book from the Legal Defense Fund: “the service member’s DD214 (discharge paperwork) says on it ‘homosexual conduct,’ which is significant because many future employers will ask for that paperwork…”
In addition, they have to repay any bonuses and costs of education at a service academy like West Point, even if they’ve been in the military, 10, 15, 20 years serving the country they love.
One has to ask, how can this be?
Sheng did just that, beginning this project at the urging of many who viewed his previous project, “Fearless,” a collection of portraits of openly gay high school and college athletes that toured the country with more than 40 exhibitions. He couldn’t say no.
Sheng, a Harvard graduate from Thousand Oaks, CA, took out two lines of credit and began his self-financed, worldwide trip to photograph the soldiers who asked to be part of the project, to bring light to the great risks they were taking by doing so.
Read more the process and experiences next week in Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), Part II, coming March 19.
photo © Tech. Sgt. Roy Santana, via The U.S. Army (Flickr creative commons)
It’s Wednesday afternoon and all that most people can think about is how many days, hours, minutes remain until the weekend. But not you, you’re a photographer! You’re never bored, but are always plotting your next photo shoot or researching the new D-SLR you’ve had your eye on. We’re right there with you, friend. To keep the wild world of photography on your mind midweek, here’s our roundup of what’s been happening in it lately.
- In honor of Veterans Day (or Remembrance or Armistice Day to some of you outside the U.S.), I have selected the above photo from The U.S. Army’s Flickr photostream, by Tech. Sgt. Roy Santana. It depicts U.S. Army Lt. Col, David Sigmund, greeting a young boy after passing out soccer balls to local children during exercise Flintlock 2007 in Bamako, Mali, Sept. 4, 2007. This photo offers a not often considered perspective of the breadth of work that our military men and women do as a means to foster relationships of peace, security and cooperation around the world.
- Thank Tank Photo has announced a new heavy duty shoulder camera bag. The Urban Disguise 70 Pro is designed for the photographer carrying two regular or pro size D-SLRs with lenses attached to each camera body – or even a 70-200 f2.8 lens attached to any camera body.
- Barbara Bordnick, the renown New York photographer whom, DP had the privilege of interviewing for the Spring 2009 issue, has a new calendar out called Floragraphics, which showcases more of her celebrated floral photographs.
Fort Hood Tribute
Debbi K. Swanson Patrick
This photo was taken by Martin Howard, a retired Lt. Col. and pathologist from the US Army in Mississippi. I saw it on Flickr and felt it instantly conveyed the feelings of the Fort Hood rampage last week that left 12 soldiers, one civilian, and one unborn baby dead—and the shooter in the hospital. The questions are endless about the making of this tragedy—Who missed the signs? What was the final straw? How long had this been building? Were there terrorists ties? What is the Army and other armed services going to do about it? In the meantime, there are soldiers, husbands, sons, brothers, daughters, wives, and a soon-to-be-mother, to mourn.
Here is retired Lt. Col. Howard’s story:
I served in the US Army in Iraq in 2004 with the Mississippi National Guard. I was briefly at Fort Hood during my Reserve duty in 1999. I look upon all soldiers here and abroad as my brothers and sisters. These VOLUNTEERS are the finest people I have ever known in my life. I am continually amazed at the sacrifices these young people make on our behalf. The tragedy touched me as it occurred here in America, on a base, where they should have felt safe one last time. Their loss is no less tragic than those a world away but it reinforces the resolve we must have even at home.
As for the photo, I took my boots outside to compose a tribute for the troops to post on Flickr to remind everyone to pray for the victims. The sun was just rising as I set the boots and flag on the ground to get my camera. The scene just made itself. I used a small flash on the boots but the whole shot was done in 3 or 4 takes.
Martin Howard, MD
LT COL, US ARMY (ret)
Here is a list of the deceased.