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.