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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Do Sing

Staff Sgt. Eric Alva waves to delegates after he was honnored during the GOP state convention in San Antonio, Friday, June 4, 2004. Alva lost his leg after stepping on a land mine in Iraq. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Bayou City Performing Arts salutes a new, open military
by Marene Gustin

When artistic director Dr. Linus Lerner of Bayou City Performing Arts began planning the current season, he knew that the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy would be overturned. He just didn’t know it would happen before the premiere of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: Coming Out Under Fire
on March 24.

He designed the production to be a work of inspirational music and narration exploring how gay and lesbian soldiers handled war while keeping closeted under the policy that allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the military as long they didn’t speak out about who they were.

“So I’ve had to revamp it, so now it’s more of a celebration of that,” Lerner says.

The policy was repealed on September 20, 2011, and now there is even a movement to allow benefits for same-sex partners in the military. But that doesn’t mean the musical Don’t Ask Don’t Tell isn’t still relevant.

“I never served in the military,” says Lerner, a Brazilian native. “But in my role as artistic director of Bayou City Performing Arts, I recognized that this was an issue. Frankly, I never saw what the problem was in having GLBT members fighting together. But when I talked with soldiers they would say, ‘Why can I kill for my country but I can’t be myself?’”

So he created a choral performance with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Houston, Bayou City Women’s Chorus, Sam Houston University Musical Theatre performers and dancers, and a color guard provided by the U.S. Vets that tells the story of the brave gay and lesbian men and women who served courageously under fire while keeping their sexuality under wraps.

The show includes musical numbers from various composers such as “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from Les Misérables and even a little lightheartedness with The Village People’s “In the Navy.”

There are also patriotic numbers with the color guard, and as a tribute to the repeal of the policy, the performance will be hosted by retired staff sergeant Eric Alva, a San Antonio native who was the first seriously injured Iraq War Marine. A leading advocate of ending the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, Alva lost his right leg and received a Purple Heart award in 2003.

In a blog on the Huffington Post, Alva recently wrote about his coming out: “That was a very powerful thing for me, that I still had their trust, because the supporters of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell are right about one thing: unit cohesion is essential. What my experience proves is that they’re wrong about how to achieve it. My being gay, and even many of my colleagues knowing about it, didn’t damage unit cohesion. They still put their lives in my hands, and when I was injured they risked those lives to save mine.”

Other guests include Houston’s own civil-rights advocate, retired U.S. Air Force Col. Terrel Preston, a 26-year Air Force veteran, who served under DADT for 11 years and was an active proponent of banning   the policy.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: Coming Out Under Fire, Saturday, March 24, 7:30 p.m., at the Wortham Center’s Cullen Theater.     for details.

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and, among others.

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