Ask Not

The definitive story of the history and activism behind "don't ask, don't tell."
Year Released
Film Length(s)
73 mins
Remote video URL


Award-winning PBS documentary Ask Not is a compelling exploration of the history and effects of the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The film exposes the tangled political battles that led to the discriminatory law, and profiles courageous activists who fought for repeal.

Featured review

Ask Not is a great gift. A rigorous and heartfelt look at the true costs of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy, the film gives voice to men and women who too often can't be heard.
Dr. Nathaniel Frank
New York University, Author of "Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America"


Discharged soldier Alex Nicholson was the only named plaintiff in the federal lawsuit that sparked national attention and pushed the U.S. government toward a speedy decision to repeal 'don't ask, don't tell.' Ask Not traces Alex's story from his South Carolina beginnings to the pioneering national activism that made him a key figure in this fight. The film also includes the gripping video diaries of a gay soldier stationed in Iraq and informative interviews with policy experts, which compellingly illustrate both the political and historical context of the policy as well as the psychological tolls on gay Americans who served in combat under a veil of secrecy.

The DVD includes 73/54 mins, English subtitles & special features


Timely and balanced... a strong, serious effort at mixing a discussion of civil rights and a look at Americans forced to choose between love for their country and love for another human being.
Tony Perry
Los Angeles Times
The film is poignant and thought provoking and would lend itself to a very solid discussion about discrimination and the rights of the individual in the military.
Barbara Pickell
Clearwater Public Library, Florida, Library Journal
Three storylines are woven together to present a cohesive argument as to why DADT should be eliminated... Clips from politicians, activists, and scholars help ground the storylines in the contemporary social situation and the historical context.
Judith E. Rosenstein
Assistant Professor of Sociology, United States Naval Academy, Teaching Sociology Magazine
Compelling politics, compelling stories, compelling film--and a compelling case that 'Don't Ask' undermines the very national security that proponents of the gay ban claim to defend.
Michael Sherry
Richard W. Leopold, Professor of History, Northwestern University
Ask Not provides vivid historical context to explain the political origins of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' along with compelling accounts of the resistance movements that have challenged this policy in the past few years. By documenting the educational efforts launched by gay veterans, the sit-ins at military recruitment centers, and the story of a gay soldier on duty in Iraq, the film gives multiple perspectives on the personal impact of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' making a strong case for its repeal.
Estelle Freedman
Edgar E. Robinson, Professor of U.S. History, Stanford University
Ask Not offers compelling insights into how the discriminatory 'don't ask, don't tell' policy affects the estimated 65,000 LGBT men and women honorably serving in today's US military. The film demonstrates the absurdity of allowing convicted felons to join the military while denying enlistment to perhaps thousands of openly LGBT people across the country who want to serve but are unwilling to go back into the closet. It prompts the question: how can a military value system that promotes honesty and integrity continue to tolerate a policy that officially promotes deception and dishonesty?
Gary J. Gates
PhD, Williams Distinguished Scholar, Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law and Author of "The Gay and Lesbian Atlas"
Symons' new film manages to stun. Not just because of the depth and humanity of the characters or the new information presented, but because the director helps the viewer see the policy through a fresh lens.
Dr. Aaron Belkin
Associate Professor of Political Science, University of California Santa Barbara
Potent, evenhanded... engrossing... brisk and smart.
Dennis Harvey
Beautifully crafted... Ask Not is a revelation and a call to conscience.
Lillian Faderman
Author of "Surpassing the Love of Men", "Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers", and "To Believe in Women"
This moving work... is a blunt but compassionate instrument of argumentation. The facts and appeals are earnest and unrelenting. This outstanding work may have its most profound impact on a high school audience, whose members are contemplating military service.
Michael J. Coffta
Business Librarian, University of Pennsylvania, Educational Media Reviews Online
Compelling... Ask Not has startling facts on its side... but the gay soldiers make the most potent case, simply by doing their jobs.
Jesse Ellison
The country's flagging military is now accepting criminals and youth with mental issues, and has even lowered the IQ standards, but the Armed Services continue to refuse to take out and proud gays and lesbians. In his excellent new film, Ask Not, Johnny Symons explores the irony of the current situation. Symons' film is an elegant case asking not to let this continue.
Kathleen Wilkinson
Curve Magazine
Warmly personal, politically incisive and straightforward... Award-winning Bay Area filmmaker Johnny Symons adds to his string of excellent documentaries on gay culture.
Deanna Quinones
San Francisco International Film Festival
3 stars! Recommended.
K. Fennessy
Video Librarian
The film makes an irrefutable case for repealing the folly of 'don't ask, don't tell.'
David Wiegand
San Francisco Chronicle
A straightforward and detailed account... Symons makes his point well with specific statistics and clearly delivered reasoning. Personal testimonials from active gay soldiers, as well as discharged veterans, are particularly moving.
Rose Egge
The Spectator
Compelling, thoughtful and poignant.
Anthony Falzone
Executive Director, Fair Use Project, Stanford Law School
Polished and informative... puts a face on the people who have been affected by 'don't ask, don't tell.' If you don't know much about 'don't ask, don't tell,' or the history of gays in the American military, Ask Not is a great place to begin your education.
Johnnie Walker
The Torontoist
Johnny Symons has crafted a smart, balanced, provocative documentary that is as informative as it is emotionally charged. The blend of testimonial and archival news footage lends credibility to both sides of the issue. Andrew Gersh's editing is masterfully executed.
Splash Magazine
Splash Magazine

Awards and Screenings

PBS National Broadcast, Independent Lens
The New York Times, TimesTalks special screening
Special Screening for U.S. Congress, Capitol Hill
Golden Gate Award Nominee, San Francisco International Film Festival
Audience Choice Award for Best Film, Spokane LGBT Film Festival
American Sociological Association, 2009 Annual Meeting Selection
Audience Award for Best Documentary, OutTakes Film Festival, New Zealand
Fort Lauderdale/Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, Opening Night Film
United Nations Association Film Festival
Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival
Queens Museum of Art, Queens, NY
Seattle International Film Festival
OUTFEST, Los Angeles
Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, Missoula, MT
Provincetown International Film Festival
Nashville International Film Festival
Cleveland International Film Festival
PBS Community Cinema selection, with community screenings in 50+ US cities

Features and Languages

Film Features

  • DVD Extras

Promotional Material

Promotional Stills

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