At the opening of Ask Not, a startling film to be aired nationally on PBS on Tuesday, June 16th, three generals are asked if homosexuality is compatible with military service. Each one closes in on the mic and says "Incompatible". The third of the group is Colin Powell who adds some twisted qualifier that will make you want to spit. In fact, I wanted to spit with anger and disgust many times in the course of viewing an advance copy of Ask Not for Bilerico.
Don't Miss "Ask Not" Tuesday on PBS
When finished spitting, I had a conversation with Johnny Symons, Ask Not's Producer/Director. His work on this film strongly reminded him of how difficult it is for any politician, no matter how favorably he/she may lean toward LGBT equality, to advocate solidly for an LGBT cause. Making the film also reinforced for him the fact that the military is almost incredibly resistant to change.
The film brought me back to some grim statistics. DADT is now thirteen years old. 12,000 men and women who refused to adhere to the policy have been discharged. Annually, 4,000 choose not to re-enlist because of their sexuality. An estimated 65,000 gays and lesbians are now actively serving in the military. In 1993, 16% of those in the military felt that gays and lesbians should be allowed into their ranks. In 2006, 70% felt comfortable with gays and lesbians. There are more than one million gay and lesbian veterans.
Ask Not also contains a very powerful and direct mention of the fact that President Truman, by the simple signing of an executive order, did away with discrimination against blacks in the military. I am among those who believe that President Obama could do the same for gays and lesbians , and that all those who say that he must move slowly and carefully around this matter are spewing nonsense. When I delivered this rant to Johnny Symons, he reminded me that while Truman was able to reverse racial discrimination in the military simply by means of an Executive Order, DADT is a law, not just a policy. He added "This, however, does not mean that President Obama could not immediately issue an Executive Order directing the military to stop enforcing the policy."
There are other clips of Colin Powell and President Clinton that are sure to infuriate you, as will the words and reactions of some of the ordinary citizens and police shown in Ask Not. Watch this clip, and to answer the question of the idiot caller, yes, I'd take Liberace over John Wayne. I bet he would have made a fierce and ragingly good soldier.
I was glad to learn from Johnny Symons that the two really handsome and hot soldiers, Alex Nicholson and Jarrod Chlapowski, who became a couple in the course of making the film, are still together and living in DC where they direct Servicemembers United. I'm sure you will agree that looks aside, just the sound of Jarrod's voice is the essence of many a gay man's dreams.
Johnny Symons' acclaimed Ask Not about the U.S. Military's controversial Don't Ask Don't Tell policy will air nationally on the Emmy award-winning PBS series Independent Lens on Tuesday, June 16, 2009 at 10PM. Check your local listings.