Entertainment » Television

Ask Not (PBS’s Independent Lens)

by Lewis Whittington
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Saturday Jun 13, 2009
Bay-area documentary filmmaker Johnny Symons.
Bay-area documentary filmmaker Johnny Symons.  

Bay-area documentary filmmaker Johnny Symons new documentary Ask Not is a potent j'accuse against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and a government that would prop it up as a rational policy.

The film couldn't be timelier, just as gay America waits for President Obama to dismantle DADT as he had promised to do. The film will be broadcast in most markets on PBS's Independent Lens series in June.

Gay audiences know Symons from 2002 festival circuit hit "Daddy & Papa," which told his own gay adoption parent story. "Ask Not" is less emotional in its dissection of the flashpoints of gays serving in the US military.

Interviews with retired officers to active duty boots on the ground in Iraq, the film not only illuminate the hateful absurdities of the military policy, it presents the real lives of the gay soldiers.

"The army doesn't want me because I'm gay, and my gay friends don't want me because I'm a soldier." An African American San Franciscan stoically observes in the film as he prepares to deploy to Iraq. His reality encapsulates what gay American soldiers have to suck up.

Symons' ground video from Iraq speaks volumes about the real conditions soldiers face on the line. Summed up movingly by a gay soldier who said. "You can turn off your emotions, you definitely can turn off your sexual feelings."

And that is just the starting point. Since DADT was made policy in 1993 , more than 12,000 military have been oppressed, harassed, brutalized, slandered and eventually kicked out of military service. "These aren't abstract numbers, these are real people," another soldiers says standing in protest on the Capital Mall.

But, Symons' doesn't just preach to the choir, this is a call to arms. He follows volunteer inductees from "Right to Serve" that stages sit-ins at recruitment centers, challenges GLBT Americans to return to GLBT activism.

The opposition presents the same worn arguments - unit cohesion, morale and men being stalked in the showers-reasons that are more out of touch with reality than ever before. Yet the same arguments are still being put forth and may succeed in keeping DADT in place.

Symons follows several soldiers and recruits trying to cope with DADT, victims of discrimination and the cesspool of homophobic politics. Summed up by a soldier this way "A policy that protects... homophobes."

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.


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