Before "don't ask, don't tell" was officially repealed for gay, lesbian, and bisexual military personnel in2011, a photo of a male Marine in drag could have landed him in hot water. Today, we can celebrate the diversity of those brave enough to take up the call to serve in the military, while living the life most authentic to them.
Last November, photographer Devin Mitchell unveiled a photo series documenting the lives of service members. Since then, Mitchell has photographed even more veterans for The Veteran Vision Project. The images spotlight veterans, occasionally revealing the stark contrast between their lives in and out of uniform.
"One photo that really speaks to me the most is the picture depicting Joshua Zitting and his husband Patrick Lehmann," Mitchell told Mic last November. "It reminds me of how unfair it is that this man can serve while enjoying all of this constitutional rights as an American, while other men and women similar to him cannot in other parts of the country, due in part to recent decisions such as the one made by circuit judge Jeffrey Sutton [who upheld same-sex marriage bans in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee]. Judges like him are blind in my eyes. Maybe pictures like this will help him see better."
Lesbian, gay, and bisexual military personnel had been serving our country for decades without receiving equal protection, while transgender troops are still prohibited from serving openly. While, as many speculate, marriage equality may be the law of the land come this June, there is still plenty of work to be done to truly accept and integrate all LGBT service members. Mitchell says he hopes this photo series will put a face to the LGBT people who tirelessly serve our country.
"As a gay man, I can relate to what is still the oppressive stigma of homosexuality. Legislation is just the beginning of a long sociological process to acceptance," Mitchell tells The Advocate. "The subjects featured in this project might be an example of such development in our communities. Images such as these would have been unprecedented before December 2010. Perhaps a century from now history students will look back and commemorate the turn of the tide."
The Advocate exclusively obtained 14 more photos from Mitchell's series that show LGBT military personnel after the dismantling of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
Editors note: Mitchell has not yet photographed many female-identified military personnel, which is why the photos are predominantly male-identified persons. To join Mitchell's project contact him through the Veteran Vision website. A Kickstarter has been launched to fund the full project.