Photos of gay service members make statement about policy

 

6a00d8341c730253ef0133f5e141ae970b-800wi(CNN) — A soldier and his shadow sit alone on wrinkled sheets. With his knees pressed tightly up against his chest, he wraps his arms around his legs and bows his head.

In another photo, a soldier stands before a mirror. His raised hand covers just enough of his reflection to protect his anonymity.
But it’s not photographer Jeff Sheng from whom these men are hiding their identities.6_photo-2
It’s the military.
Sheng’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” exhibit, two years in the making, conveys the stories of the gay and bisexual men and women who serve in the U.S. military. And because his subjects are forced to keep their sexual orientations under wraps in order to serve, Shen’s photos are portraits without faces.
The Los Angeles, California-based artist said many of his subjects were grateful for the opportunity to make a statement “without fully revealing themselves and losing their jobs.”
“If this person got outed, they would lose their pension, their retirement benefits — their 20 years of service in the military would be gone,” he said.
6a00d8341c730253ef0133f1b8f56a970b-800wiSheng asked many of those he photographed why they continue to serve despite the inequality.
“I asked, ‘Why do you still serve with this policy in place? Why would you do it?’ ” Sheng said. “And they all looked at me and said, ‘Because it’s serving the country. It’s the most honorable thing that I can think of doing right now in my life.’ ”
20091220RicoSheng is also the creator of “Fearless,” photographs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered high school and college athletes who are public about their sexual identities. He is working on a project focusing on undocumented Americans.
The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” photos were exhibited last week in Washington at the Human Rights Campaign headquarters, and Sheng said he hopes to bring them next to Chicago, Illinois.
Bryan-finalThe exhibit couldn’t have been unveiled at a more relevant time.
On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to suspend enforcement temporarily of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Though a lower court has deemed the law unconstitutional, the controversial policy will remain in effect until the appeals process is complete.
President Obama is on record favoring abolition of the policy but has said he wants the issue to be decided by Congress, not in the courts.
Oliver-finalThe new commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Amos, opposes repeal of the policy. “There is a risk involved,” Amos told reporters in San Diego, California. “I’m tring to determine how to measure that risk. This is not a social thing. This is combat effectiveness.”
Ryan Vincent Downing, a former Air Force captain and one of the 60 service members Sheng photographed, said he has confidence “that people in the military can handle change.” He is no longer in the service and said hiding his sexuality took a toll.
Tristan-and-Zeke-final“I found myself making up lies, and then making up more lies to cover the lies I had told before,” Downing said.
Sheng said he hopes his photographs open eyes to the way the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy affects closeted service members who are fighting and dying for their country.
“This idea that they’re hiding, in many ways … they can’t reveal who they are,” Sheng said. “[It] has a really profound effect on the way that people see these images and think about the issue.”
JEFF-SHENG-DADT-BOOK-COVER-289x300
This was originally published online by Chuck Conder of CNN on November 15, 2010.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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