The San Diego premiere of "Serving In Secret: Love, Country and Don't Ask Don't Tell," was met with rousing applause from the audience at Urban Mo’s Bar and Grill in Hillcrest on Tuesday night.
The documentary chronicles the discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ people serving in the military. At the heart of the documentary is San Diego veteran Tom Carpenter, who is now 75 years old.
The film documents an era when Carpenter, a Marine, was forced to hide his relationship with Naval flight officer Courtland Hirschi.
"I liken it to the sword of Damocles. It’s over your head all the time,” Carpenter said explaining about what it was like to be gay in the military. “We could have been found out, you could be administratively discharged. That was the best result you got. And you're going to end up literally going to prison. I knew people who went to prison. I knew people also that were found out to be gay and committed suicide."
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Through the stories of Carpenter and others, the documentary spotlights the decades-long political fight for equality. A fight Carpenter decided to join as a tribute to Hirschi. Their 20-year relationship was cut short when Hirschi died in 1992 from HIV.
“I think he would be happy that in the future no young man or woman will ever have to go through what we went through, that this is behind us and that they can serve their country with pride and with honor and be their authentic self,” said Carpenter.
Marine Lieutenant Matthew Leonard was among the active duty members in the audience who applauded the movie and benefited from Carpenter's fight to help repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell.
While chair of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Carpenter helped fundraise and come up with the strategy that eventually repealed the 18-year policy, which had forced an estimated 14,000 servicemembers out of the military.
“It’s heart-wrenching, too, to think about how I can serve openly now and to think about going through what he went through and not be able to live here through an authentic self, I can’t imagine that," said Lt. Leonard.
“Letting people know the history, why the policy came into place, why it was important to have it repealed. I think it's important to remember that history," explained Marine Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Phelps.
Especially important to remember since Carpenter and others say the fight to maintain equality in the military continues.
“You have to be prepared because you're going to be attacked over and over again and you need to be able to stand up and fight for your rights. So just because we have it now and just because transgender people have it now, don't assume that's going to last forever,' he said.
Serving In Secret airs Sunday, Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. in San Diego on MSNBC. It will also stream on Peacock.