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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 8, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 41
Photographer takes aim at DADT
Section One
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Photographer takes aim at DADT

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

On August 25, Jo Ann Santangelo, an out Lesbian photographer from Brooklyn, New York, began a road trip around the United States. She drove 10,167 miles through 31 states - from New York to California and back - to photograph and record the stories of LGBT servicemembers.

This week, Jo Ann's road trip took her to Washington state.

'All the subjects in the photos are all LGBT veterans,' she told SGN. ' Some have been discharged under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and other served in silence for their whole careers. In all, I've photographed 70 veterans.'

Jo Ann says her obsession with documenting life began as a young girl growing up in Boston's North End, where everyone knew everyone else and everyone's business. After relocating to Austin, Texas in 2006 and feeling unconnected to her community, Jo Ann said she hopped on her bike and started photographing. The more than 1,500 black and white portraits of Austin's often unseen lives became her first photo essay. Austin Seen was exhibited in many of Austin's coffeehouses and galleries.

Jo Ann moved to New York in 2008 to attend her first formal education at the International Center of Photography.

'The photo project Proud To Serve began when I was in school,' she said. 'In Austin, I drove a petty cab, and would drive a lot of the active duty military stationed in the area. One day, I met a Gay servicemember who told about his experiences serving under DADT.'

Jo Ann says that at first, she didn't think much of it. But then she began to look into DADT and was surprised about the number of people it has affected. 'I found out that there are over 1 million LGBT veterans, 65,000 currently serving, and that nearly 14,000 have been fired,' she said. 'Those numbers are insane. We only have numbers and I have set out to put a human face on DADT.'

'When I show up to photograph the veterans, I hear the same thing over and over again,' said Jo Ann. 'Most say they were aware of their sexuality before they joined, but that wasn't going to stop them from serving their country. Among the younger servicemembers, the sentiment is that once they enlisted, they found out just how hard it is to hide who you really are.'

A good amount of the veterans she photographed say they 'outed themselves because they no longer wanted to live in hiding' and that if DADT were repealed, 'they would reenlist and continue their military career.'

The photo essay Proud To Serve will be on exhibition on Veteran's Day, November 11, at the LGBT Center in Manhattan. Jo Ann says she will then take the exhibit on the road to universitys and LGBT centers across the country.

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