September 19th marked the 5 year anniversary of the full implementation of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Repeal of the law closed a dark and discriminatory chapter of American history that required gay, lesbian, and bisexual servicemembers to be dishonest about who they are in order to serve the country they love.
17 years prior to the ban’s end, highly capable gay, lesbian, and bisexual servicemembers were fired for being honest about their sexual orientation. DADT was not only a detriment to national security that harmed military readiness, recruitment, and morale — it was discrimination written into law that is inconsistent with the values of equality and freedom.
Between 2009 and 2011, American artist, Jeff Sheng photographed about 80 LGBT servicemembers in the US military who could not show their faces due to DADT. His photographic work is a powerful statement of the pain inflicted on servicemembers and military families because of this archaic policy. His photographs on this topic have been featured in the New York Times, Time Magazine, Newsweek, the Advocate, and ABC World News Tonight, among others.
In 2014, Jeff began revisiting many of these servicemembers to follow up about their experiences since DADT’s repeal, and to photograph them now with their faces showing. On today’s anniversary we’ve worked with Jeff on a sneak peak of his work in our Instagram series, “Out of the Shadows: DADT’s Repeal 5 Years Later.”
“While the work is still in progress, I wanted to share some of these images now on the 5-year anniversary of the repeal of DADT, to visually show the kind of progress we have made as a society. It’s unimaginable now to think that just over 5 years ago, these brave service members were not allowed to show who they are, but today can be recognized fully and celebrated as the heroes that they truly are.” – Jeff Sheng
DADT’s repeal five years ago marked a new chapter in American history. It meant that gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans eager to serve, but unwilling to compromise who they are as individuals, could now do so without having to live dishonestly.
Thanks to the repeal of DADT, and the recent end to outdated policies that prevented transgender people from serving, the LGBTQ community is finally able to openly and proudly serve our nation. As we celebrate five years of a wrong made right, our we must recommit to the fight for the expansion of rights and protections for LGBTQ people everywhere.
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