|The Strange History of Don't Ask, Don't Tell is played on HBO this month.
By Jack Pedersen
On September 14th, two friends and I went to a Frameline invite-only world premier of The Strange History of Donâ€™t Ask, Donâ€™t Tell at The Castro Theatre. A night at the Castro Theatre is always special, and this night was that and so much more. From the moment I stepped in line I knew it was another memorable Frameline-sponsored event. Vets from several wars were very visible. You could see how proud these decorated men and women were to have served our country.
The entry ticket was a pair of wonderfully engraved souvenir dog tags. Once seated the mighty Wurlitzer arose with lively patriotic music and ended with its signature song â€śSan Francisco.â€ť In attendance were the filmmakers Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato, State Senator Mark Leno (D-SF), and Aaron Belkin of SFSU.
HBO documentary filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (Wishful Drinking,The Eyes Of Tammy Faye, and Heidi Fleiss: The Would-Be Madam of Crystal to name just a few of a long impressive acclaimed list), have another winning documentary, The Strange History Of Donâ€™t Ask, Donâ€™t Tell.
The film follows a compelling complex timeline of gays in the military dating back to the Spartan Warriors, through both world wars to the present day. Impressive government footage of the hearings pro and con including John McCainâ€™s adamant objections then and now of the compromise legislation President Clinton was forced to sign in 1993, Donâ€™t Ask, Donâ€™t Tell.
We are introduced to the sad stories of the faceless gays in the military. With a thorough look at the risk these brave (and hiding) men and women took, as well as their relationships and even their deaths. The timeline continues with stories of soldiers like Leonard Matlovich, the first gay service member to fight the ban on gays in the military. His photograph appeared on the cover of the September 8, 1975 issue of Time Magazine.
In 2010 things started to change with the civil rights activists push to repeal DADT. At the front line was Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-Pen), who was himself an Iraq war vet and most likely lost his reelection due to his stand against DADT, and Aubrey Sarvis the Executive Director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN).
The music by David Benjamin Steinberg is a stunning subtle background score.
The timeline finally explodes with the Senate hearings of 2010 with archival footage and interviews with featured politicians such as Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass) and Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT). And finally, the signing of the repeal by President Obama on December 22, 2010.
Filmed during the last two years of DADT, The Strange History Of Donâ€™t Ask, Donâ€™t Tell is a powerful documentary of news footage , personal accounts, and the real history of gays in the military. But more than just gays in the military itâ€™s a story of gay rights. The Strange History Of Donâ€™t Ask, Donâ€™t Tell is currently airing on HBO.