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, which was 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.