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Synopsis: Surviving the Silence tells the story of two women in love who played a part in changing military policy, shining light on the unknown history of how a closeted colonel forced to expel an Army hero for being lesbian did so in a way resulting in re-instatement via federal court.
Years before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Colonel Patsy Thompson presided over the review board that dismissed Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer for being a lesbian. Although she had been in tough spots over the course of her 28-year service, this was the toughest. Presiding over this case forced Patsy to confront her own moral dilemma and her own secret: she too was a lesbian.
Margarethe Cammermeyer, a highly-decorated nurse and war hero, was on track to becoming a general. During a security clearance interview, she truthfully answered when asked if she was a lesbian. This started an investigation which led to her eventual and highly-publicized expulsion from the Army National Guard. In 1995, Cammermeyer’s memoir was adapted as a television movie executive-produced by Barbra Streisand and starred Glenn Close. But Thompson’s story has remained a secret…until now.
In addition to revealing history, SURVIVING THE SILENCE explores the years before Thompson would be forced to preside over Cammermeyer’s military trial: the traditions that influence her, the experiences that shape her, and the moral code that determines the inevitability of her decision. She and her now-wife Barbara Brass candidly share how they wrestled with heart-wrenching choices in public and in private, hiding their relationship, speaking in code on the phone and struggling to protect their love while preserving Thompson’s career – and, how they emerged to become vibrant activists later in life.
Mary Newcombe, Cammermeyer’s attorney, describes knowing the foregone outcome of the military trial and developing a plan for the civil trials. As she shares preparing for the unavoidable military expulsion, she also speaks to the critical importance of the way Thompson managed the process at each stage and credits her with setting up the civil trial victory. Eric Fanning, 22nd Secretary of the Army, offers a unique perspective of the role they played, having worked in the Defense Department as a closeted then openly gay man, through four phases of US military policy: Executive Order 10450, DADT, open service of gays and lesbians after the DADT repeal, and allowing open transgender military service when he was Deputy Secretary of Defense.
Reaching far beyond history, SURVIVING THE SILENCE is at its core a love story, celebrating commitment and the power of individuals to make change. Every act of courage and kindness, no matter how small we might think it is, ripples out and impacts the world.
We need stories that remind us of what is possible and shows that love can win. SURVIVING THE SILENCE does that: educates about untold history, informs perspectives through unvarnished expression, inspires by showing how one woman quietly created a way where it seemed there was none, and disrupts the divide by highlighting our shared humanity.
LGBTQ people are often under-served by media: representations are rarely multi-faceted, fully-fleshed out and fully human. SURVIVING THE SILENCE helps fill that void, by showing a flawed but deeply committed lesbian couple sometimes gracefully, sometimes clumsily navigating a non-supportive military and cultural environment.
Outside of liberal enclaves, the divide, especially in politics and religion, is both wide and deep. Yet we know that sharing personal stories is the most effective way to build a bridge. Because of the way SURVIVING THE SILENCE is told, non-LGBT people can relate to the universal experience of struggling to build a fulfilling life.
My intention is to inspire all audiences to realize that, no matter how small or how understated, every act of personal integrity and courage ripples out and quietly changes the world. Had Col. Patsy Thompson not acted in the way she did – allowing an unprecedented amount of testimony and material at risk to herself – Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer would just be one of tens of thousands of other discharged soldiers, instead of being the hero for equality that she became.
Filmmaker, speaker and writer Cindy L. Abel formed Atlantis Moon Productions to develop projects that launch conversations and impact popular culture.
She directed and produced the award-winning BREAKING THROUGH, a documentary in which openly LGBT elected officials share their stories of self-doubt and triumph over multiple barriers, revealing a deeply personal, rarely-seen side of politicians and gay people.
In partnership with Director Giovanni Coda, Abel produced two internationally-acclaimed films, BULLIED TO DEATH and XAVIER. Both avant-garde Italian-American co-productions intertwine cinema, photography and performing arts.
Abel’s latest award-winning film, currently screening at festivals, SURVIVING THE SILENCE: LOVE AND IMPOSSIBLE CHOICES, tells the story of two women in love who played a part in changing military policy, shining light on the unknown history of how a closeted colonel forced to expel an Army hero for being lesbian did so in a way resulting in re-instatement via federal court.
Abel also combines her experience in managing multi-million dollar, award-winning communications projects with filmmaking to create content for corporate and public affairs clients. She was named “Best Filmmaker” by GA Voice in 2019, served as National Co-Chair of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, Vice-Chair of Atlanta Film Festival and Vice President of Communications of Women in Film & Television Atlanta.