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Gays in the Military. Vincent Cianni Asks… and they tell.

“Vincent Cianni’s photographic essay on gays in the military contributes to the recognition that real people with valuable skills and experience — indistinguishable from their straight counterparts and not some stereotype gay bogeyman — compose those serving on active duty and in the reserves. This book will thus take its place among the documentary evidence of a significant milestone in our nation’s military history; equality for gays and lesbians in the nation’s armed forces.”

Alan M. Steinman, MD

Joseph Rocha , Washington, D.C. 2010Joseph Rocha , Washington, D.C. 2010 Master-at-Arms Petty Officer 3rd Class, U.S. Navy, 2004-2007K-9 Unit Dog Handler. Honorable Discharge after coming out to his commanding officer; suffers PTSD from years of abuse, hazing and humiliation.

As the Human Rights Commission attests, the U.S. military has a long history of human rights abuses against homosexuals resulting in lost careers of servicemen and women many of whom are highly skilled, well educated, patriotic, courageous, and productive.

Vincent Cianni (born 1952), a documentary photographer whose work explores community, memory, and the human condition, made a series of road trips across the United States to interview and photograph approximately 100 gay and lesbian U.S. military veterans and active-duty service members. His mission was to document how the military’s ban on openly gay and lesbian service personnel, which ended just two and a half years ago, impacted on their careers in the armed forces and their personal lives afterwards.

Matt McCary and David Cochenic, Orange Park, FL 2011Matt McCary, Orange Park, FL 2011Airman 1st Class E-3, U.S. Air Force, 1998-2000Intelligence Specialist. Honorable Discharge; put under arrest after being singled out by co-worker; discharged within five days with no investigation David Cochenic, Orange Park, FL 2011Chief Petty Officer E-7, U.S. Navy, 1992 – PresentField Medical Service Technician, Aerospace Medical Technician. Received Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal and Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.

The culmination of Cianni’s intense three-year journey is Gays in the Military (Daylight Books, May 2014) which brings together over fifty intimate portraits and testimonies of individuals and couples who openly share their compelling, moving, sometimes harrowing stories of the harassment, discrimination and indignities they endured as gay and lesbian veterans and service members. Many of the interviews presented in this book took place while the ban was still in place that is a testament to the trust that Cianni established with his subjects.

The age range of the servicemen and women in Gays in the Military spans sixty years. They served in World War II, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, stateside, and in the reserves. Many attained high rank, received numerous medals, and held top-level jobs. The civil rights violations many of them suffered oftentimes prohibited them from receiving the benefits accorded them for serving in the military. The stigma associated with such punishments based on sexual orientation was worse when a man or woman returned to civilian life unable to find a job that matched his or her skills. These gay men and women spent their entire military careers living under the threat of being “outed” and discharged. In order to hide and live a lie, many repressed their emotions and denied themselves basic human intimacies.

Paul Goercke, San Francisco, CA 2012Paul Goercke, San Francisco, CA 2012 Messman/Staff Officer, U.S. Merchant Marines, 1944-1945
World War II Veteran. Served in Okinawa, Ie-Shima Island, Hawaii and Saipan

The book presents three insightful essays that shed light on the cultural, personal and political consequences of the ban on homosexuality.

Alison Nordström is Senior Curator of Photographs at George Eastman House. She writes about Cianni’s powerful portraits and the role of photography as an “exercise in witnessing and truth telling.” She places his work in the tradition of the documentary photography of Lewis Hine and Walker Evans.

Alan M. Steinman, MD was a Rear Admiral, U.S. Public Health Service and U.S. Guard from 1972 to 1997. Retired, he came out publicly in 2003 on the tenth anniversary of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ (DADT). He remained “in the closet” the entire time he was in service. He writes about the history of the laws and policies banning gays and lesbians from serving in the military, describing them as “deliberately draconian.”

Lt. Donald R. Bramer writes about the challenges of living under the ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy which lasted from 1993 to 2011 while maintaining a relationship with his partner, who was also in the service, with the long separations and the emotional toll of carrying the “burden of silence and invisibility each day that we served. We fought harder and trained harder just to wear the uniform with the same distinction as those around us.”

Debra Fowler, Lowell, MA 2013Debra Fowler, Lowell, MA 2013 Specialist, U.S. Army, 1986-1988Korean Linguist. Defense Language Institute Soldier’s Award; Dishonorable Discharge, fraudulent entry; outed when being investigated for top-secret security clearance

Donald R. Bramer, Washington, D.C., 2011Donald R. Bramer, Washington, D.C., 2011Lieutenant (jg) O2, U.S. Navy, 2002 – PresentIntelligence Officer. Top Secret Security Clearance; multiple deployments to the Middle East; numerous medals and commendations from combat operations; provided anonymous testimony during the hearings to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Dustin Hiersekorn and Zachary Werth, Boise, ID 2011Dustin Hiersekorn, Boise, ID 2011Private, U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, 2010Discharged for medical reasons after two weeks of enlisting. Zachary Werth, Boise, ID 2011 Specialist, Idaho Army National Guard, 2007-2010Medic. General Discharge Under Honorable Conditions; erroneous enlistment used as a smokescreen for homosexuality

Vincent Cianni is a documentary photographer whose work explores community, memory, and the human condition through image, text and audio. Cianni holds an MFA in Photography from the SUNY New Paltz and teaches photography at Parsons The New School for Design, and the International Center of Photography. The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library (Archive of Documentary Arts) at Duke University established a study archive to insure the preservation of all his documentary projects, including negatives, contacts and correspondence. We Skate Hardcore, an eight-year documentary project of inline skaters in Williamsburg, Brooklyn published by NYU Press and the Center for Documentary Studies in 2004, was awarded the American Association of University Press Best Book Design. A major survey of this work was exhibited at the Museum of the City of New York in 2006. His photographs have been exhibited and collected nationally at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the George Eastman House, and The Kinsey Institute for Sexual Research; and internationally in London, France, Brazil and Germany. His work has been published in The New York Times, DoubleTake, Aperture, The New Yorker, Photography as Activism; New York 400: A Visual History of America’s Greatest City; and The Polaroid Book.

Heather Davies and Shane Walley, Round Rock, TX 2010Heather Davies, Round Rock, TX 2010 Lieutenant, U.S. Navy, 1989-1998 U.S. Naval Academy graduate; Operations Watch Officer and Officer Recruiter. Resigned commission

To visit the artist’s website, go here.

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Check out the New York Times interview with Cianni here.

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