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'Don't ask, don't tell' photography project continues as military leaders mull lifting gay ban

February 2, 2010 | 12:18 pm


A Los Angeles photographer's ongoing project to document gay military personnel has been gaining media attention ever since it launched late last year. Now the photographer has published the first in a proposed series of volumes featuring his intimate portraits.

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell: Volume 1" features 17 uniformed men and women who are closeted in their professional military careers. The images were taken by Jeff Sheng, an L.A.-based photographer who is  taking time to travel the country to meet with subjects for the project. Sheng said he plans to release a second volume in March.

In addition, a gallery show of some of the images is scheduled to open in L.A. in September. The exhibition will take place at the Kaycee Olsen Gallery.

The release of the first volume coincides with recent statements by some of the country's top leaders  expressing the desire to repeal the ban on openly gay service personnel.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday he would be launching a review into how the military would possibly lift the current "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The review could reportedly take up to a year to complete. His announcement comes the same day that Adm. Michael G.Mullen, chairman of the joints chiefs of staff, said repealing the ban was "the right thing to do."

Sen. John McCain quickly criticized the statements. He was quoted as saying that he is "deeply disappointed" and that the study would be "clearly biased."

Last week, President Obama said in his State of the Union address that he planned to work with Congress and the military to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Sheng said his photography project will continue as the government continues to mull its options regarding gays in the military. So far, he said, he has logged 30,000 miles traveling the country to meet his subjects, many of whom learned about the project by way of the photographer's website and a November story in The Times.

In the portraits, the subjects wear their uniforms, but their faces are concealed. Sheng also asked them to choose a name and a location of some personal significance to use for the titles of the photographs.

Here are more images from the first volume of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."


"Catalina, New York, New York, 2009"


"Craig, Baltimore, Maryland, 2009"


"Glynn and Celine, Fort Worth, Texas, 2009"


"Mike, Boston, Massachusetts, 2009"

-- David Ng

Top photo: "Mark, Savannah, Georgia, 2009." Credit: Jeff Sheng / Kaycee Olsen Gallery

Credit for all photos: Jeff Sheng / Kaycee Olsen Gallery

Comments () | Archives (7)

This whole thing is misleading. It should say OPENLY GAY MILITARY want to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy" CLOSETED GAYS find the "Don't Ask Don't Tell Policy" is the best policy for them to serve without harrassement or anyone having a right to "out" them before they are ready. This policy grants them a right to serve even though they are gay without anyone having a right to delve into their personal private life. Openly gays have a tendency to want to "out" someone who want to keep their private lives private. Also, at a time in which our government needs to concentrate on JOBS here comes another thing to SPEND BORROWED MONEY in implementing this new policy. It will cost millions which we cannot afford. I know that there were probably promises made to the Gay lobbyist who gave money for their campaigns but now is not the time to deal with this issue. LEAVE THIS ISSUE ALONE AND CONCENTRATE ON JOBS!

Ending DADT IS the right thing to do. I served for 6 years (USN '94-'00); we needed every person in our command that we could get. To lose an able-bodied shipmate, because of something NOT RELATED to their rate, is ridiculous. Politicians are acting like the whole chain of command is going to collapse, and that is simply not so. In fact, I recall a lot of the same arguments used against bringing women on the carrier. Somehow though, we made it through the deployment. Go figure.

The whole dadt deal is because it is currently, under a military law from decades ago, illegal to be aa homosexual in the military. There are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual people serving already, have been for years. To change the law shouldnt cost anything, just re-write the rule deleting the policy. Trust me, it isnt a big secret as to who is or isnt gay or lesbian.

Love the images.

Carol P., you're ignorant. Allow gays to marry and maybe more event planners will have jobs. And lawyers too for divorce.

@ Carol P.

You are mistaken. The DADT policy does NOT allow gays to serve in the military without anyone having to delve into their private personal life. If a closeted gay person is in the military and it is suspected that he or she is, an investigation will be conducted and when they find out the facts they get booted out. End of story. How is that a right??? They can't have their loved ones come see them off or welcome them home because if that happens--BAM--investigation and another one bites the dust.

The problem with spending money is because they have do all this nonsense of investigating how this will work...which is just a waste because-- NEWS FLASH--gay men and women are and have served in our armed forces, so nothing will change other than the stupid rule. This BS study is to satisfy the naysayers that allowing gays into the military won't really disrupt anything.

And what we CAN'T AFFORD is having more Arabic translators dismissed, having the military stretched to the breaking point and asking service men and women to three and four terms of duty with "Stop Loss," which is causing emotional harm to them and their families.

I think people who are against the repeal of DADT think that the military is somehow going to become a giant orgy if gays are allowed to join, but that's just silly.

Loved Jeff Sheng's pictures. Great idea!

The fact is that gays and lesbians have served with heroism, distinction, and honor in the military of this, and many other nations for centuries, and only in the US, where the deep-rooted, right-wing, Christian theology permeates politics is this an issue.

There are plenty of openly gay/lesbian people serving in the Israeli military, and NOBODY there makes an issue of it. They're too busy fighting for the survival of their country to care who's sleeping with whom.

We should learn from these other services and apply their lessons here. Enough with discharging people for who they are.

Carol P- The millions of dollars used to train those who are replacing discharged soldiers could be better spent on jobs.
Between 1998 and 2004, the military discharged 20 Arabic and six Farsi speakers, according to Department of Defense, on grounds of their sexuality. Therefore, I propose the government support national security over discrimination and save those dollars. It's win/win/win.


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