Leon R. Ingleright 4th has overcome many crises in his life: alcoholism, cancer, severe financial setbacks. But he’s still trying to cope with his separation from the military due to being gay, he said.
In September 2002, just two months before fulfilling his obligation of five years of service, Ingleright was abruptly discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps.
His commanders discovered an e-mail Ingleright had written to a male lover a year earlier, prompting the discharge under the military ban on openly gay servicemembers. To this day, Ingleright doesn’t know who supplied the e-mail to his commanders.
Today, the 1997 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy has been slowly putting his life back together. He’s gotten a good job as a database and network administrator with a Center City nonprofit and established a long-term relationship, living with his partner Robert and their dog Austin in Ambler.
Despite this, Ingleright still feels a lingering sense of loss due to his traumatic discharge from the Marines. As part of the healing process, he’s participating in a documentary that spotlights LGBT alumni of the Naval Academy, called “Out of Annapolis” — the first documentary on LGBT alumni from a military school.
“It’s a little out of character for me,” said Ingleright, 35. “I’m an introvert by nature. But I think it’s important for me to tell my story.”
He said he wants people to see the diversity of LGBT servicemembers and the wide range of skills they bring to the military.
He added that talking about his discharge also helps him feel better, though he’s not bitter or vindictive toward his commanders.
“They did what they had to do based on the rules. I completely understand that,” Ingleright said. “But I’m still dealing with the loss. Ever since I was a teen in Junior ROTC, I’ve had an affinity for the military.”
The documentary is expected to be released this summer, and Ingleright hopes it will be screened at LGBT film festivals in major cities across the country, including Philadelphia, though the film doesn’t have distribution yet.
Steve Clark Hall, 55, of San Francisco, is the producer/director of the film, and he’s also a 1975 graduate of the Naval Academy. So far, he’s excited about the positive reception the documentary has received.
“The whole point is to get the stories out there,” Hall said.
He’s done more than 20 on-camera interviews and accumulated more than 14 hours of footage, though not all of the interview subjects will be featured in the 40-minute finished product, he said.
“When I asked people why they were participating in this project, the answer typically wasn’t to do away with ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” Hall noted. “Instead, they said that no one should have to be in the Naval Academy and think they’re the only ones. When they were in the Academy, they all felt they were the only gay person there.”
Another local Naval Academy graduate, Joseph W. Soto, also played an active role in helping Hall produce the documentary, donating time and resources.
“It’s been a labor of love,” the 48-year-old said.
If the documentary helps end the military’s ban on gay servicemembers, so much the better — but that’s not its main focus, Soto emphasized.
“We don’t want to turn the documentary into a DADT [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] debate and lose the value of the stories,” Soto said. “Of course, it will have some sort of role in the debate. But we don’t want it to be hijacked for that purpose.”
Soto said he expects the finished product to reflect well on the Naval Academy, remarking that he has very fond memories of his time there.
“It was a great education that served me well, and that’s what I hope to convey if my story is included in the finished product,” Soto said.
Ingleright appears in a four-minute trailer on YouTube, though his interview, too, might not make the final cut, and that’s OK with him.
“Whether I’m actually featured in the film is not as important as how much of an impact it has, and how well it’s put together,” he said. “It’s bigger than me.”
Tim Cwiek can be reached at (215) 625-8501 ext. 208.