In a poignant gathering of LGBTQ rights advocates and their allies, approximately 150 attendees came together in Washington D.C. for the premiere screening of “Serving In Secret: Love, Country and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Produced by MSNBC Films and Time Studios, the documentary delves into the historical hardships and discrimination experienced by LGBTQ individuals serving in the U.S. military. The film encapsulates the journey from the early days of the nation’s armed forces to the controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy’s enactment and its eventual repeal during President Barack Obama’s administration.
The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” marked a historic moment, allowing gays, lesbians, and bisexuals to openly serve in the U.S. military for the first time. Organized by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, the film screening took place at the John Hopkins University Bloomberg Center’s auditorium on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Key figures behind the film’s creation, U.S. Naval Academy graduate and former Marine Corps fighter pilot Thomas Carpenter, and filmmaker Jonathan Baker, participated as guest speakers following the screening. The discussion, moderated by Ryan Bos, executive director of D.C.’s Capital Pride Alliance, engaged the audience in an insightful conversation.
Carpenter’s deeply moving on-camera interviews constitute a significant part of the documentary, offering a poignant glimpse into his personal journey as a gay man forced to conceal his identity during his distinguished military service. Carpenter’s story also includes his clandestine love affair with fellow military member Cortland Hirschi, leading to Hirschi’s discharge when his sexual orientation was discovered. Tragically, Hirschi, whom Carpenter considered his spouse, succumbed to AIDS in the early years of the epidemic in the 1980s.
The documentary also features interviews with prominent figures like former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, former Army Secretary Eric Fanning, LGBTQ activist David Mixner, and Aubrey Sarvis, former executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which played a pivotal role in advocating for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“Serving In Secret” is set to air nationwide on MSNBC on November 12th and on Peacock on November 13th. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who attended the screening, expressed gratitude to Carpenter, Baker, and all those involved in bringing this vital LGBTQ+ veterans’ story to light. Carpenter, reflecting on the film’s impact, emphasized the mix of emotions it stirred, drawing laughter and applause from the audience.
Jonathan Baker, a twice Emmy-nominated producer and acclaimed filmmaker, expressed his profound appreciation for the collaborative effort behind the documentary, acknowledging his uncle Thomas Carpenter’s pivotal role in achieving the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The film not only revisits difficult memories but also concludes with an inspirational ending, encapsulating Carpenter’s journey from personal struggle to a significant milestone in LGBTQ rights history.