I received an email this morning from Wijnand Krill, in it was the full translation of the De Volkskant article on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
REPORT AMERICAN ARMED FORCES ACCEPT HOMOSEXUALITY
They are ordinary people
Homosexual service members in the US always had to lie about their sexuality.This controversial policy will now come to an end. The fight for equal rights is
only just beginning. By Diederik van Hoogstraten.
Angela (24) is a valued sergeant in the army. As a woman in uniform, she is reluctant to allow her feelings free reign. However, in recent times she has
‘literally been sick with worry’. ‘The thought that someone could find out prevents me from sleeping’. After years of fear, lies and blackmail, Angela experienced a new low last week.
She received a promotion for showing leadership and exemplary conduct. The festive ceremony in Heidelgberg, Germany, where she serves on the American base,
would have been the perfect opportunity to bring together her partner and family with her colleagues and superiors.
But her loved one’s name is Emily. Their lesbian relationship is top secret. ‘I had to tell Emily she isn’t welcome’ ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ (ask nothing, say nothing), was the name for the
compromise-policy for homosexuals in the all-volunteer US armed forces since 1993. Those who remained ‘in the closet’ were allowed to serve their country.
Those who came out of the closet – or were forcibly pulled out of it – were ‘honorably discharged’. They were allowed to fight and die for America, but not
as gays and lesbians. Thanks to President Barack Obama, this policy – introduced by democrat Bill Clinton – will come to an end. For Angela, this is too late. She had already
decided to quit the army. And until everybody in the armed forces is used to this new openness, it will remain treacherous to be honest and to subject
partners to army culture. For Obama, GLBT-organisations and the generals, there is reason to be satisfied. Obama made good on a promise, GLBT-organisations talk
of a giant step forward and the highest commanders have eliminated a source of controversy and unrest. And so in this regard, the American armed forces join most other NATO allies.
Those who suffered from the policy agree the repeal of this policy is good news. However, they also ask attention for what transpired for 18 years in the long
shadow of ‘DADT’, as the hated policy is called. The careers and lives of thousands of young people are destroyed because they could not or would not
conceal their true nature.
Alastair Gamble (32) from Los Angeles knew full well there was no room for his sexuality when he signed up in 2000. This wasn’t a problem; he kept his
homosexuality a secret anyway. Gamble also wanted to convince friends and family he could maintain himself in a predominantly male and uniformed world.
Blessed with a talent for languages, he developed himself into a specialist in Arabic and German. After the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, that
knowledge was worth its weight in gold. But that desire knew its borders. (This last sentence makes no sense to me either) During an unannounced room inspection
on base, he was found with another boy. His friend, sleeping, was a ‘breach of visitor regulations’. This led to a formal inquiry which revealed photographs of
both men. The inspectors impressed upon him that he did not have to mention anything about their relationship or his sexual preference. That’s how DADT worked: everyone
played stupid, and all was forgotten. However, Gamble, who is a lawyer now, did not want to lie and commit perjury. He admitted being gay, found himself in an
‘emotional maelstrom’ and was honorably discharged.
That sounds better than it actually is, he assures us. An honorable discharge is a permanent smudge on a resume. It suggests someone was out of control. The
armed forces urgently needed to rid themselves of you. When Gamble joined the lawyer associations of California and Arizona, he faced tough questions
regarding this issue. Secrecy was the core of DADT. The people, whom it concerned, were usually invisible. That bothered photographer Jo Ann Santangelo (36) from the Texan city
of Austin. In 2006 she made some money on the side as a pedicab driver. A young soldier ‘collapsed’ when he told her about his secret life. Santangelo had no
connection to the armed forces. However, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq made her realize it concerned people of similar age.
The photographer, a lesbian, wanted to show who these people were. For months, she roamed across the US in a rental car, looking for “the face of DADT”. The
result is a traveling exhibition of dozens of portraits that were shown in New York last month. Ordinary men and women are shown in their residential
surroundings. A short caption tells their story. Captain Tony Woods fought in Iraq, came out of the closet, had to leave the
army, and attempted to become the first homosexual African-American in Congress. (He lost the elections.) Mara Boyd served in the air force until she came out.
After her discharge, she had to repay 22 thousand Euros of study money – a gift for active duty service members. Jonathan Hopkins received several medals for
courage in Iraq and Afghanistan but was suspected of homosexual activities in 2010. This message reached him on the day of his promotion. Hopkins was
discharged. In this way, Santangelo’s series reveals hypocrisy and disillusionment. I know how hard it can be in normal life’ she says. ‘How must it be for them?
At her exhibition, Santangelo is sometimes approached by total strangers. Often they say they never go to exhibitions and that they have never cried before at a
photography exhibition. ‘They are ordinary Americans in all shapes and sizes’ she says. ‘I think that is what people react to. We see ourselves’.
Those service members that agreed to have their picture taken, like Alastair Gamble, to show their face and reveal their sexuality. Countless others have
never been able to reveal their identity. Angela is one of them. Twice she was blackmailed. First by the ex boyfriend of her then girlfriend, who read e-mails by Angela en threatened to out her. Later,
one of her subordinates discovered Angela had a relationship with Emily. That soldier sexually assaulted her. Her attempts to get him back in line were
fruitless; he threatened to reveal her true nature. She plans to share all of this with her commanders when she leaves. Angela is happy DADT was repealed. However: ‘Considering we are the nation of
individual freedom, it has taken a long time to rid ourselves of such a discriminating policy’. She says she loves the army very much. However, she will
not reconsider her decision to leave the armed forces. Since Angela and Emily can not marry, they are also ineligible for medical insurance, employment
support and family homes for married couples. ‘The fight for equal rights on only just beginning’ she says.
Jo Ann Santangelo’s portraits can be viewed online: www.joannsantangelo.com
Here is the link to De Volkskrant article