Early in the compelling, if biased, new PBS documentary Ask Not, we meet "Perry," a young gay man from San Francisco who has enlisted in the Army and is bound for Iraq. His face is blurred to protect his identity, but his friends' faces are clear. They look scared—and perplexed: why is Perry risking his life for an Army that doesn't want him as he is?
With ardent conservatives like Dick Cheney now publicly backing gay marriage, that fight frequently feels all over but the shouting. For gay-rights advocates, the next battlefront is already in sight: "don't ask, don't tell," the Clinton-era policy that forces soldiers like Perry back in the closet in order to serve. Ask Not has startling facts on its side. In recent years, as military recruiters failed to hit their goals, the Army has had to lower its standards, admitting more than 4,000 felons even as it discharged 12,000 gay people—300 of whom had mission-critical language skills. But the gay soldiers make the most potent case, simply by doing their jobs. "I don't -really think about 'I'm gay' anymore," Perry says from Iraq late in the film. "I don't even know what that is. My main concern is survival."