Documentary photographer Vincent Cianni offers a stark and stunning look at gay and lesbian service members in his forthcoming book, Gays in the Military.
Cianni’s collection, which is slated for an April 30 release and published by Daylight Books, follows American military officers who faced enormous challenges before (and during) the days of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” (DADT) as well as their subsequent journey following the controversial legislation’s 2011 repeal.
Zachary Werth (Specialist, Idaho Army National Guard, 2007-2010) and Dustin Hiersekorn (Private, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, 2010), Boise, Idaho 2011 Werth received a general discharge under honorable conditions, erroneous enlistment; used as a smokescreen for homosexuality, while Hiersekorn was discharged for medical reasons two weeks after enlisting.
Cianni told The Huffington Post that he traveled through the U.S. from November 2009 to June 2013, during which he shot photographs and recorded oral histories of roughly 100 gay and lesbian service members and veterans, all of which recounted the impact that the ban on serving openly had on their careers in the armed forces and lives afterward.
“The effort to gain their trust was a delicate process and the resolve to achieve it proved fruitful in many ways, particularly on a personal level,” Cianni, who is based in Newburgh, N.Y., said. “I remember leaving each time as emotionally drained as they were, recognizing how horrible some of their experiences were and what personal sacrifices they made.”
Victor Fehrenbach — Boise, Idaho 2011 (Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Air Force, 1991-2011) Retired F-15E Fighter Pilot. Tours of duty in Iraq (including Operation Iraqi Freedom), Kuwait, and Afghanistan; 88 combat missions, 400 combat hours; successfully fought DADT after coming out on Rachel Maddow’s show in 2009.
Cianni usually shot the photographs after the interviews were conducted, so by then, the photographer and his subjects “had created our own brief history, of intimacy and vulnerability.”
“I hope these photographs and interviews honor their lives in service to their country and stand as a testament to everyone’s right to choose to serve our country based on our beliefs and in a way we see fit,” he said.
Debra Fowler — Lowell, Mass. 2013 (Specialist, U.S. Army, 1986-1988) Korean Linguist. Defense Language Institute Soldier’s Award; dishonorable discharge, fraudulent entry; outed when being investigated for top-secret security clearance.
Check out a selection of Cianni’s incredible photographs below, and read more about his work here.