Q&A: Photographer nears completion of project on how DOMA hurts military families

In the past two years, since the finalized repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' the military policy that prohibited gay and lesbian service members from serving their country openly, we've seen greater visibility for gay and lesbian service members than ever before - and they've been crucial contributors to the campaign to win marriage nationwide. They have spoken out about why they need the freedom to marry, how it hurts their families to be disrespected and treated as less than their counterparts in different-sex relationships, and the dramatic consequences of the so-called defense of marriage act, the federal law that prohibits respect for legally married same-sex couples.

This year, Tatjana Plitt, a photographer from Australia living in the United States, has been amplifying these stories of military families affected by DOMA through her "Gay Warriors" project, where she photographs couples and their families in their uniforms and shares their stories. Last year she met her fundraising goal via Kickstarter to fund a road-trip throughout the country so she could photograph at least 50 same-sex couples from all parts of the United States, including Hawaii, Florida, and New England. She's photographed many of the couples you've met through Freedom to Marry and the American Military Partner Association - including Juka and Jonathan from California (below), who shared their story with us a few months ago. Now, she's wrapped up her journey and is back in the Washington, D.C. area, where she lives. She'll be meeting her photo goal here in the DC metro area. 

Tatjana ultimately envisions her project taking the shape of a live exhibit and, potentially, a book. We introduced freedom to marry supporters to Tatjana's work last year, and she shared many of her moving portraits with us. Check out some more of those here. 

Here, we caught up with Tatjana to ask her about her trip, how the rapid pace of the marriage movement has impacted her trip, and how her Kickstarter support has been essential to her journey. 

AP: Last time we talked, you were just preparing for your trip - but you've covered a lot of ground in the past four months! Have you been able to keep to your itinerary?

TP: I actually have. I gave myself three months to cover all the cities I had volunteers in. The scheduling went well for the most part, and because I rented a car, I was able to be flexible and reschedule when I needed to. I still have about 8 couples to shoot before I reach my 50, but I'll be sticking to the Maryland area (and surrounds) until I reach my goal.

AP: Over 400 people helped to fund your photography project on Kickstarter. Have you heard from many of your backers, whether they're cheering you on or asking you for updates?

TP: The support from my backers has been amazing. Many words of encouragement and helpful suggestions for my travels alone for 3 months. I feel like I have a whole community supporting me through this project and I'm part of something larger than myself. I created a Facebook page to keep people up to date on a day to day basis, but also sent my backers exclusive updates along the way. It was quite overwhelming while I was on the road to co-ordinate the travel itinerary, places to stay, shoot dates, documenting the whole process, engaging with all the couples and people I stayed with and keep everyone up to date on what I was doing. In hindsight, it would've been nice to have an assistant along with me - but I had to stay on budget!

AP: What have been some of your most memorable shoots from this trip?

TP: It's so hard to say because I had such a great interaction and connection with everyone I photographed. Everyone's story touched me in different ways. One story that struck me was Juka and Jonathan's, which you've written about. Read about Juka and Jonathan HERE.

4. What were you doing on March 25 and 26, when the Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments in the two marriage cases, including a case that could lead to the end of DOMA? Were you doing any shoots that week?

I wasn't shooting on the actual days of the hearing, but I was shooting the weekend before in San Francisco and the weekend after in Portland. I was thrilled and humbled to be part of such an historical moment. When I first started this project, there was not yet a whole lot of main stream media attention around DOMA. I thought my project would be this isolated little project that would focus on documenting a post-DADT community. But in the last 8 months, the marriage equality movement has exploded and my project has become a small part of this bigger movement. Every time someone comes out publicly, they give hope to other members of the community and inspire them to do the same. Courage is contagious. I am honored that some same-sex military couples have chosen to use my project as a platform to do just that. I cannot describe how much it means to me to be fighting along side the people who are affected by this legalized discrimination, to be welcomed into their hearts and homes and to be part of the civil rights movement of our time.

5. As you travel across the country and meet so many couples, what have you learned about DOMA or about why marriage matters to these couples?

I've learned a lot about the intricacies couples with children face due to anti-gay laws in the states. Where they live is often determined by the military, and the laws differ greatly from state to state - for example, for couples where one of the parents is the biological parent, the spouse has to do a full adoption (in which they're treated as complete strangers even if the couple is married, requiring a home study, back ground checks and costing about $6,000). In other states, some couples can do a less invasive, less costly second parent adoption, while in other states they cannot even legally adopt the child without the other parent giving up their parental rights altogether. It is very complex and requires same-sex couples to jump through all kinds of legal hoops and bear additional financial strain while trying to start a family.