OUTFEST 2008 Film Review - Ask Not - A Documentary that Examines "Dont' Ask Don't Tell"

“The full policy is ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell. Don’t pursue, don’t harass. Unfortunately, the only thing that is strictly enforced is the don’t tell part.”

 – Alex Nicholson, former Human Intelligent Collector, U.S. Army.


Ask Not is a new documentary by Johnny Symons which examines the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy adopted by the military during the Clinton administration. The documentary explores the inplementation of that policy and actual affect it has on gays and lesbians serving in our armed forces through three distinct perspectives.

Sit-In at Times Square

The Right to Serve Campaign is an offshoot campaign conceived from members of Soulforce (an organization dedicated to the political and religious freedom of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans through “relentless nonviolent resistance”. Haven Herrin and Jason Reitan spearhead the similar campaign where openly gay citizens publically try to enlist in various armed forces recruitment centers of several metropolitan cities. When they are denied the right to enlist, they stage a spontaneous sit-on. The point is to drawn attention to the thousands of qualified U.S. citizens who are denied the right to enlist simply because they are gay or lesbian.

The Call to Duty Tour was organized by Alex Nicholson, a former multi-lingual, Army human intelligence collector who was discharged 6 months after 9/11 because he was gay. Along with fellow former U.S. Army serviceman Jarrod Chlapowski and retired Rear Admiral Alan Steinman, the highest ranking openly gay serviceman in the armed forces, the tour of college campuses was organized to promote discussions and try to bring to light that DADT is different from the racial integration issue because DADT is in fact legalized discrimination.

"Perry" is a new enlist, serving in silence in Iraq

The third thread of the documentary follows “Perry”, a gay man who has recently enlisted in the military to help ease his education debts. He knows the penalties he faces if discovered. The film follows his preparation to leave for Iraq, his conflict over joining an army that does not want him and his feelings and integration into the military live in Iraq. It is interesting to see what parts of a person’s identity is striped away, and which parts are involuntarily forfeit in order to serve one’s country.

Johnny Symons has crafted a smart, balanced, provocative documentary that is as informative as it is emotionally charged. The blend of testimonial and archival news footage, ironically, does lend credibility to both aides of the issue. Andrew Gersh’s editing of masterfully executed.

Refusing to serve in silence anymore

Regardless of which side of the issue you might find yourself, this documentary is particularly poignant for one basic reason: the statistics of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell ” policy are undisputed. Fact: Gay and lesbian servicemen and women do not enjoy the same privilege of confidentiality from their doctors or their chaplains that their straight counterparts do. Fact: In order to reach enrollment goals, armed forces agencies are lowering their standards of admission to accept convicted felons and individuals of questionable psychological health. Fact: 6,500 servicemen and women were discharged under the DADT policy; some of which were highly trained personnel whose skillset is sorely needed in the current war overseas.

Serviceman Fred Fox, a member of the Call to Duty Tour stood before a university class and made this statement. “I’m a soldier. And a soldier follows orders… If I’m asked to stand post for 4 hours, I’ll hold it for twenty. If I’m told to serve beside a gay soldier, then that is what I will do. Because a soldier follows orders.”

Shouldn’t it be that simple?

Ask Not is schedule to broadcast on PBS in 2009.



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