Daily Picture Show

Gay Military Personnel Out Of The Closet, In Front Of The Camera

Federal law restricts openly gay men and women from serving in the Army; in effect, that means that gay men and women who join the military are required to hide their sexuality. And yet photographer Jeff Sheng has had no problem getting them to talk. In fact, his latest photo project, Don't Ask, Don't Tell, came about somewhat organically, after several gay military personnel had contacted him.

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"I first began the series," he writes in an e-mail, "when service members who were closeted saw my earlier series, Fearless, on 'out' LGBT high school and college athletes that I started in 2003." He began receiving unsolicited stories through e-mail, and it wasn't long before Don't Ask, Don't Tell was in the making. Although Sheng does not reveal his subjects' identities, his portraits still reveal their struggle.

He has taken about 60 portraits in 25 states, and the project has garnered a fair bit of attention. It was recently on display at Kaycee Olsen Gallery in Los Angeles and at the Human Rights Campaign during FotoWeek DC in Washington. Sheng elaborates in an exhibition news release that the theme of invisibility is a broader one that applies to the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan:

"While it certainly applied to their sexuality," the news release reads, "I discovered more levels of significance as almost all of these service members had fought in the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade. The invisibility of these wars, as well as our lack of recognition toward everyone in the military and their efforts, became a powerful inspiration for the work and an added metaphor within the title, Don't Ask, Don't Tell."



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