Friday, January 30, 2009

"Tell": Another indie documentary about the military "don't ask don't tell" policy and its history


First, before getting on the review of this novel film, let me reiterate one peril with “don’t ask don’t tell’. If you’ve said your gay in a commercial non-fiction film, the military will probably consider that telling and toss you out under “don’t ask don’t tell” – probably but not always. So, there’s one 19-year-old who joins in successive protests at military recruiting centers, sometimes getting arrested for trespassing, trying to enlist after “telling” and staying in the center to protest after being turned down [when the group comes to town, some military recruiters close up shop]. Okay, maybe some day he does try to join the military without “telling” so I guess I have to omit his name from this review so that search engines don’t pick it up.

The film is “Tell” from TJMV video, 83 minutes, available now [early 2009] and it seems to be self-distributed by producer-writer-director Tom Murray, from Florida. I mentioned it briefly at the end of a posting Jan. 21 2009 with the website link there, and I ordered it through the website and got it pretty promptly.

The film consists mostly of monologue-style statements from about fifteen or so gay military veterans (and friends) of various ages, with a few additional stills added, such as one of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the Vietnam War memorial near the Lincoln Memorial. The film says that AVER maintains that there are over one million lgbt veterans. A number of the personal stories are quite startling and I’ll run through a few.

For example, US Navy Captain Joan Darrah (blog entry) tells the story of her experience in the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. She was in a meeting, and the very first reaction to the plane strike was that it could be a test gone wrong. She was outside at a bus stop when the airliner ploughed into the Pentagon, in the very area where she had been seven minutes before. In the ensuring days, they thought there could be more attacks, and it was all very stressful. But, given all the ensuing complications with having a female partner, she found it necessary to retire “quietly” while keeping her pension.

Toward the end, there was a young sergeant from Ohio who would be seriously wounded while riding a Humvee in Iraq. He would decide, as a matter of personal integrity, to come out, in the Advocate and various appearances. His commander found out, but said that as a technical point he never actually said “I’m gay” in any of the media appearances. The commander pretended to do an investigation and dropped it. The soldier talks about the importance, from a personal honor viewpoint, of being able to speak in his own name, rather than anonymously. (Keith Meinhold had a similar experience before he outed himself on television in 1992.)

There is an 80 year old who was taken prisoner of war by the Nazis during WWII, and starved so that he couldn’t flag from the ground for Allies. He would eventually become a Jesuit but be kicked out by the cardinal who is the current Pope.

There was a sailor who was relatively openly gay while in submarine service in the 1960s.

A soldier enlisted to become an operating room medic and was told he would be sent to Germany and Hawaii, and was surprised and dismayed to wind up in Vietnam, where for a year he assisted with amputations and where soldiers died in his arms. He did mentioned being asked if he was a homosexual when joining, but I know (from taking the draft physical myself three times, in 1964, 1966, and 1967, going from 4-F to 1-Y to 1-A, that they had stopped “asking” explicitly in 1966; they resumed in 1981).

Another soldier told of being discharged after WWII for “unsuitable living arrangements” off base when he was living with another man, for what he did in his own time. Another sailor got a discharge from the Navy as a “class 2 homosexual” (which means “butch”; 1 means “Nellie”).

There was one transsexual, now a woman, who had been in submarine service. (I know of another such transgendered person who left the Navy after 15 years to become a woman, and continued as a civilian in the same intelligence job, and appeared on Scott Peck’s radio program in 1993 (Peck the marine officer’s son)).

Dixon Osborne, who had worked with the Campaign for Military Service in 1993 trying to lift the ban before Clinton would announce “don’t ask don’t tell” on July 19, 1993 (the speech is here on Stanford Law Schools site for “don’t ask don’t tell”), would co-direct Service Members Legal Defense Network (SLDN) for a number of years. He gives a brief account of his experience, and explains how the law legally makes gays and lesbians second class citizens, implying to some people that they may be less fit in other areas of society requiring forced intimacy (for example, some teaching situations) even if the letter of the law restricts it to the Armed Forces.

Another officer had served in the Public Health Service (which is technically a uniformed service) and the Coast Guard (apparently PHS doesn’t follow PHS unless the officers are deployed with military units -- see my June 2008 post on my LGBT blog here).

Air Force Academy Cholene Espinoza appears; her blog entry on “Freedom to Serve” is here. She has a book titled “Through the Eye of the Storm: A Book Dedicated to Rebuilding What Katrina Washed Away” from Chelsea Green Publishing, 2006, about her experience volunteering after Hurricane Katrina (the weather map is shown), and she quotes an Army saying, “It’s not who’s right, it’s what’s right.”

The DVD also has a 13 minute short (also directed by Murray) “Remember I’m Here” where a Columbus Ohio man, Ron Willard, leads the effort to make a gay military flag (with an Eagle and pink triangle in the stars section) in memory of a gay soldier who dies of cancer.


Second picture: Vietnam War Memorial, Sept. 2008.

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