Community Cinema Presents ASK NOT in Washington, D.C.

Posted on May 19, 2009

ITVS Regional Outreach Coordinator Michon Boston discusses the Community Cinema screening of ASK NOT in Washington, D.C., which premieres June 16 at 10:00 PM on Independent Lens on PBS (check local listings). Read her report of what it was like screening this film in the hub of national politics. This season, Community Cinema featured two Independent Lens films about policies that impact the U.S. military, LIONESS and ASK NOT. At screenings for both of these films, I asked everyone who has served––past and present––to stand up so we can say “Thank you” to those who have served our country. It’s a very moving moment for the audience and the service members.

The latest film, ASK NOT, examines the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" (DADT) policy. We videotaped the screening recently held at the Washington, D.C. Jewish Community Center, which was largely attended by military as well as people interested in the topic. However, it didn’t occur to me, until after the taping, that a camera pan of the audience might capture someone on active duty while serving under the policy. This demonstrated some of the fear these men and women must face under DADT. 

Joining us at the event were three men from the film: Alex Nicholson, Jarrod Chlapowski and Vince Patton of Service Members Legal Defense Network (SLDN). Other guest speakers included Darren Manzella from SLDN and Kim Jones from Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). After brief introductions and a discussion on the topic, the panel opened up questions to the audience. And in true Washington fashion, the first question from the audience was “What can we do?” about this issue. 

Together, the panelists offered advice, which included: 

#1: Write your congressional representatives and senators before 2010.
#2: Find a safe space to share stories about gay men and women you know who serve. Talk about the issues openly and join others, tell friends and other family members to get involved.
#3: Tell the story in letters, calls and emails to representatives and friends. 

The stories from ASK NOT are, according to the panelists, a place to start if you don’t have a personal story. One question that arose during the discussion: When DADT is repealed––and everyone on the panel is confident it will be eventually––would the former military men on the panel affected by DADT re-enlist? Alex Nicholson, who founded the Call To Duty nationwide veteran speaking tour, said he would return but his ideal career would be to serve as an Army JAG (Judge Advocate General) lawyer. He serves as executive director of Servicemembers United, a progressive “DADT 2.0-style” advocacy organization for Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans that was formed directly out of the work featured in ASK NOT. 

Meanwhile, Jarrod Chlapowski finished his military service in 2005 and chose not to re-enlist. Jarrod completed his Masters and is about to write his thesis and travel abroad on a fellowship. Lastly, Darren Manzella, a former U.S. Army Sergeant who was discharged in 2008, believes his career was terminated too quickly and would come back to the Army but wouldn’t want to start at the bottom. He also added that his return would be contingent on how old he is when DADT is repealed. He currently is a lobbyist for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and does outreach around the country on the military readiness issue to repeal DADT. As the discussion came to an end, a student from American University’s Queers and Allies organization shared a story about a George Washington University student who was discharged because of DADT. The student also was left with no choice but forced to withdraw from the university because he lost his financial aid package provided by the U.S. military. The story made everyone reflect on an underlying question, “Does having the DADT policy make us any safer or smarter?” 

Missed this screening in Washington, D.C.? Be sure to check out the next screening on Sunday, May 31 at 5:00 PM at Busboys and Poets ( 2021 14th St.). For more information, email 

Find more Community Cinema screenings like these in your neighborhood >>


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