don't tell hell

Perhaps the Pentagon Should Reach Out to the Civilian Photographer Who’s Located 40 Active Duty Gay Soldiers

With Don’t Ask Don’t Tell hearings galore going on on the Hill this week — and Kathy Griffin parading around D.C. like she owns the place — all eyes are on lawmakers and the Pentagon as they continue … carefully choosing their words about whether repealing the law is the right thing to do. But the Pentagon has just kicked off its nine-month review of the law, a process that is really all about stalling. Crucial to this review being effective to any degree will be speaking to actual homosexuals in the military, something that might be hard to do because, in order to get these folks on the record, they will have to reveal they are gay, a gross violation of DADT. But interestingly, there are dozens of active duty personnel who have no problem going on the record about their sexuality.

So long as you hide their faces.

Photographer Jeff Sheng (pictured) has photographed 40 of these people, and another 20 are on the way, as part of a second book to follow up the excellent Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; he’s also producing a photo exhibit with some 30 photos. Not only has he been able to get active duty soldiers (and some vets) to agree to pose for the camera, he’s putting them in touch with the New York Times to go on record. Sure, only first names are used to protect their privacy, but if some mere civilians can locate some homosexuals, surely those wizards at the Pentagon should be able to.

They’d just have to offer them immunity.

Mr. Sheng recalled his first interview with Matt, one of his military subjects. “I asked him if he had seen anyone die,” Mr. Sheng said, his face filling with color. “I knew he was a medic who served two tours in Iraq.” In his last tour, Matt told Mr. Sheng, his truck was hit by an improvised explosive device. Matt was injured and his two closest friends were killed.

Reached by phone in Texas, Matt, 24, said he has decided not to re-enlist. He said he was disturbed by the situation of a friend who was discharged after being spotted dancing with another man in a nightclub.

“Once you are deployed,” he said, “you live with people in an intimate way. You trust them with your life and they become brothers and sisters. I couldn’t help thinking that if something happened to me, no one would know who I was. That is not the way I want to leave this world.”

Matt said he was “blown away” when he saw his photo in Mr. Sheng’s book. “I became very emotional,” he said. In the book, Mr. Sheng reproduces one of Matt’s e-mail messages in which he writes, “After all I had been through … in one instant I could go from War Hero to The gay soldier that was discharged. How could this be right?”