Vincent Cianni – Gays in the Military: How America Thanked Me
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) was the official United States policy on gays serving in the military from December 21, 1993, to September 20, 2011. I discovered it by reading a great book called Here’s What We’ll Say: Growing Up, Coming Out, and the U.S. Air Force borrowed from a gay friend of mine. It’s the autobiography of Reichen Lehmkuhl during the Air Force with all sorts of difficulties around the DADT policy. A story like Reichen Lehmkuhl’s about the DADT problems in the army, made Vincent Cianni to start this project and he had interviewing and photographing gay and lesbian service members and veterans, recording their experiences and recounting the effects that the ban had on their career in the armed forces and their life afterwards.
Prompted by a November 2009 interview of Pvt. Nathanael Bodon’s mother, who described her son’s discharge from the Army while serving in Iraq as an ‘outing’ by a fellow soldier in his platoon, I was moved to explore how many lives have been affected as a result of homophobia in the military. The real issues, as organizations such as the Human Rights Commission state, follow a long history of human rights abuses that gay and lesbian people have experienced. Harassment and discrimination based on sexual preference resulted in lost careers and personal lives. In many cases, these men and women – highly skilled, well educated, patriotic, courageous and productive – attained high rank, received numerous medals and held top-level jobs that were essential to the military.
Hundreds of stories exist. Thousands have gone untold. DADT (and historically the ban against homosexuals) failed to protect the human rights of a significant portion of gay and lesbian military. At times service members were penalized and prohibited from receiving an honorable discharge to retain benefits accorded them for serving, oftentimes under extreme conditions of a combat zone. There was no recourse; their devotion to country went unnoticed and jobs were lost due to unjust policies. Some suffered economic pitfalls and some experienced the same medical, physical and psychological effects of serving during wartime.I have been interviewing and photographing gay and lesbian service members and veterans, recording their experiences and recounting the effects that the ban had on their career in the armed forces and their life afterwards. They include service members and vets from all branches and ranks in the military and from a wide array socio-economic, ethnic and racial backgrounds. These interviews and photographs will be archived at the Rare Book, Manuscript and Special Collections Library at Duke University and will be exhibited as a multi-media exhibition in 2012 and eventually a publication.
The funding campaign for Publication of GAYS IN THE MILITARY: HOW AMERICA THANKED ME is almost at the deadline and it needs your support! “Gays in the Military: How America Thanked Me” exposes the effects of the military’s ban on the lives and careers of LGBT service members. Combining photographs, text and audio, this body of work investigates the discrimination, harassment, civil and human rights abuses that have taken place, and the brave individuals who have risen above injustices. In Spring 2014, Daylight Books will publish “Gays in the Military” as a hardcover, 160 page, English language book. Your contribution will help cover the post-production, pre-press, design and print costs to make this book a reality. The book includes 80 duotone photographs, interview excerpts, an essay by Alison Devine Nordstrom, curator-at-large at the George Eastman House, and a forward by Don Bramer, one of the subjects who appears in the publication. For reward levels of $50, $150 and $250, the 5×7? inkjet print will be an image of Duane Michals in his New York City apartment (or a choice of your own) in addition to the other rewards at each respective level. Visit the project Kickstarter page for details.
More images and another stunning project (among others) about a Journey through the Early Years of AIDS on the photographer’s website. Vincent Cianni’s documentary work explores community and memory, the human condition, and the use of image and text. He graduated from Penn State University, the Maryland Institute College of Art, and SUNY New Paltz, teaches photography at Parsons The New School of Design, NYC and currently lives in Newburgh, NY.