National Defense

The History of Gay Soldiering

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Via the Cincy Enquirer comes this AP story on an exhibit about gay soldiers in the pre-"don't ask, don't tell" era:

The airman's dress blues are faded, the footlocker he carried through three tours in Vietnam has gone to rust. Yet the epitaph he chose to mark his grave is still as fresh as today's headlines: "When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one."

Leonard Matlovich's medals, uniform and other personal effects make up the centerpiece of "Out Ranks," a new exhibit that documents the tortured relationship between gay troops and the U.S. military from World War II to the present.

Matlovich, who died in 1988, was a decorated Air Force sergeant who came out to his commanding officer a month before the fall of Saigon, hoping to challenge the government's ban on gay service members. In 1975, the idea of an openly gay combat veteran was incongruous enough to land him on the cover of Time magazine….

The show also reflects the lives of individual soldiers and sailors who, even more than most, had to give up their personal identities when they put on uniforms—from a brigadier general who did not come out until after his retirement to lesbians who found a sense of belonging in the Women's Army Corps during World War II.

Michael Job, 62, a Vietnam veteran who later founded a peace group for gay veterans, donated a bulletproof Bible, hats and other items for the exhibit. Job said he enlisted in the Army in 1970 because he feared he might be gay….

Escaping questions about his sexuality was not so simple, though. Job said when local women were brought into camp to have sex with the soldiers, he had to make up excuses for why he would not get in line. Even now, Job said he feels uncomfortable attending support groups with other veterans being treated for post-traumatic stress.

More here.

If you've never read about the post-World War I Newport Sex Scandal–surely one of the most bizarre gays-in-the-military witch hunts of all time, featuring Franklin Roosevelt, undercover seaman who would make a Cruising-era Al Pacino flush with embarrassment, and the Jazz Era's answer to Rev. Ted Haggard–check it out here.

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  1. You just had to work “undercover seaman” in there somewhere.

  2. You just had to work “undercover seaman” in there somewhere.

    One must assume “discharged seaman” just wouldn’t fit.

  3. At first I thought the post was about gay soldering.

  4. Somewhere, way down in dark confines of this bigot driven non-controversy I think there is a commentary to be made on the ability of a volunteer army to have quirks and peccadilloes like this.

    Only a standing army, training and waiting around for wars of choice, could afford to discard soldiers based on their sexual preference. In a military that was engaged in a conflict that actually threatened America, an invasion scenario for example, this would never come up.

  5. “this bigot driven non-controversy”

    well spake, SugarF! Well spake!

  6. I was about to invent the word “nontroversy,” but I Googled it. I am too late.

  7. Alexander the Great would be classified as bi today. Who the hell cares?

  8. I have to wonder what kind of excuses he would have given to not get busy with the ladies brought into the camp. Religious? Health? If the other soldiers really cared whether Mr Job was gay or straight, those had to be really great excuses, because for a guy to pass up sex, wow.
    Just saying.

    Anywho, sexual orientation of soldiers was the issue that really caught my attention during the little bit of the one Repub debate I saw. Ron Paul gave a totally cowardly response. I was quite disappointed.

  9. highnumber – What was Ron Paul’s take on the issue?

  10. Highnumber: The first thing that comes to my mind is “I’m married, and I have sworn before GOD to be faithful to my wife. GOD, do you hear that? G-O-D! Adultery is a sin, amen!”

    Or else, “I’m not married, and I have sworn before GOD to abstain from sex outside marriage. GOD, do you hear that? G-O-D! Fornication is a sin, amen!”

    Maintaining that cover story might be a pain, but I doubt it’d be questioned on its face.

  11. j sub d,

    He said that he thought the status quo was acceptable.

  12. VM,

    And, of course, there is my 20-year-old reaction that my wife has never let me forget: “What could be more frightening on the battlefield than having to face a highly-trained, heavily-armed platoon of PMSing bull dykes?” Even at that tender age it seemed like a waste of resources…

    (It’s the “bull dyke” part she’s never let me live down. I spoke it in too-polite of company.)

  13. Well, I wouldn’t go with status quo being acceptable, but I don’t know what changes I would make.

    So, if I were running for president, I would go with “status quo is acceptable”, for now.

  14. kwais,

    I’d go with “The current policy is hypocritical and bigoted. We should change it to ‘Don’t ask, don’t care.'”

  15. kwais,

    How about just telling the military to grow up and stop acting like 12-year-olds playing their first game of “Smear the Queer?” Homopanic is so 7th grade.

    Of course, you’re right. You can’t speak your mind a expect to be elected president. Right of left, it’s always a liar that wins.

  16. “right or left”

    dammit.

  17. “What could be more frightening on the battlefield than having to face a highly-trained, heavily-armed platoon of PMSing bull dykes?”

    In Iraq you’d have the added advantage of them reaining water.

    I know, you’ve heard it before.

  18. Not that I’m one to normally do cross-country comparisons, but the Britis military didn’t seem to explode from their relatively recent opening of the military to non-closeted gays. The Israelis have allowed them for a while as well.

    When I was in the service, people didn’t, in general seem to care that much as long people could do their job but maybe that was just the squadrons I was in. Who knows?

  19. Highnumber,

    If allowing openly gay people to serve causes less straight people to join. And causes and increase in violence toward and from gay service members. Is that a benefit?

    I mean it might not happen, but I think it will.

    Also, I see the hypocrisy doubling with an openly gay military, not diminishing.

    The drama and the hypocrisy of a co-ed military doubling.

  20. bzial,

    I think you served in a wholly different military than me.

  21. “I spoke it in too-polite of company.”

    understood.

    High#: agreed.

    Suger (part le deux) – qft

  22. Sugarfree,

    A large number of people in the military, are just out of high school.

    They are the very same kids that were in high school with you, that were obsessed with sex, that were somewhat self conscious about they way they were perceived, and sexuality was a big part of it.

    Boot camp got them in shape, taught them how to shoot, and take orders. But it didn’t change who they were. And it didn’t affect their hormones.

  23. All forcing gays to be closeted in order to be in the military does is ensure that the military will never progress to the point where they could accept gays openly. It reinforces the notion that it’s something to be ashamed of, which is what the macho-military types were likely brought up to think.
    The only way to even remotely change their minds is for them to get to know people who are gay. I’m sure, to a certain section of the population, when you mention “gays” in any context they IMMEDIATELY come up with images of ass-obsessed, effeminate, flamboyant, lisping, scrawny men who like to wear panty-hose and listen to Barbara Streisand.
    Perhaps if they got to know guys who were gay, like some of my friends, that happened to act more-or-less like they do, they might change their minds somewhat. But keeping it all segregated like this just enables them to assign a label and a stereotype and hold their ground.

  24. A gay Vietnam vet neighbor has alluded to some pretty horrible events from his tour of duty. Let’s just say, female prostitutes are relatively small problems for a gay man surrounded by sexually starved, isolated young men in an violent, stressful environment.

  25. I don’t know what to say Kwais. There was plenty of making fun of gays and what not so it wasn’t kumbaya land or anything but there seemed to be more people, in general, who could care less than there were people who were violently opposed to the idea (and yes there were people who expressed such sentiments).

    There also was, in general, a greater concentration of apathy about the issue with the newer troops than the older troops.

    I’m not saying the military is some super-gay friendly haven, I just think there is a lot more apathy (and that is what is more apathy than anything) than antipathy.

    To be honest though, I can’t help but be reminded of all the various comments that were made about unit integrity, anti-minority violence, et cetera when the first talk of racially integrating the military.

    Heck, that was a situation where there were definite incidents of violence back and forth while things got settled in including a few high profile incidents that damaged mission readiness during wartime. Was that too high a price to pay for the racially integrated military we have today?

    I guess it all comes down to what is the acceptable price to pay for advancing a policy and, like you said, the overall effect. As much as people like to ignore it, there are readiness issues to consider and we need to have some decent way of determining the best way to go about this new integration in the best way to advance social justice and readiness.

  26. What kind of genius thinks that unit cohesion and military discipline are promoted by a policy which requires soldiers to become adept at misleading their mates and superior officers, and requires officers to become adept at turning a blind eye towards their subordinates when they suspect them of being deliberately deceptive?

  27. Mike,
    Do go into more detail please.

  28. bzial,
    When I was fresh out of boot camp, I remember violent homophobia as the norm. I don’t remember anybody apathetic about homosexuality.

    When I was in the reserves, and there were mostly college educated troops, there was probably a 40 percent apathy, and the “I don’t personally have a problem with it” types. 60% opposed.

    The new troops that I see, seem as generally opposed as they did in my day. But many classes and lectures that say that any homophobic language is treated as sexual harassment, has kept open sentiments on the downlow.

  29. Joe,

    There is a lot of that mandatory deceptiveness in the military today.

    For chrissakes, Porn and Alcohol are illegal under general order number 1.

    Also, the whole co-ed separate but equal military is a farce.

  30. joe – cuz it makes some people uncomfortable. And they can’t deal with All Things Uncomfortable

    you know, that creepy thing called “Love”.

    And combining “Love” and “All Things Comfortable”, have you checked out the URKOBOLD store? (hier)

    H/T: Mr. DaGeek for setting that up!

  31. I got out 2004. I don’t know. Probably varies by MOS, AFSC, et cetera as well.

    Like I said people were all about homophobic jokes and what not, violent homophobia not as much.

    Maybe it just the result of people keeping it to themselves but there also was several troops that were known to be gay that were not getting the shit kicked out of them either. We all knew, for the most part, who the gay troops were.

    Heck, when I was in Korea there was a discharge of one gay troop with a lot of people actually annoyed at the discharge.

    Maybe it was just the units I was in. My evidence, in the end, is just ancedotal though I think there is definitely something more going on here than just people keeping their mouth shut because of sexual harassment training (which, on a side note was totally and utterly ineffective at least in all the units I was in).

    In the end though, I just don’t know. It is such a hard thing to accurately judge.

    I can’t honestly say if I had the keys to the kingdom I would just throw open the doors without a better analysis on what would happen or a definite plan to not seriously undermine the military.

  32. kwais,

    Keeping specific acts on the down-low is one thing.

    But imagine how your life would change if, when you were in the military, you and your CO were forbidden from indicating to each other that you found women attractive, or had girlfriends, or were married.

  33. But imagine how your life would change if, when you were in the military, you and your CO were forbidden from indicating to each other that you found women attractive, or had girlfriends, or were married.

    I bet that would be psychologically frustrating. Good analogy joe.

  34. highnumber,

    Ron Paul wasn’t clear on the issue; he first said that the current policy is a good one, but then went on to specify that homosexual behavior that was “disruptive” should be disciplined, as well as disruptive heterosexual behavior.

    Of course, that’s NOT the current policy, so I’m not clear where he stands. I think that’s just not one of the issues he has a strong stance on.

  35. I didn’t know anyone in the service who was gay. Or rather, who I suspected of being gay.

    I did know two people who were kicked out because they tested positive on a drug test.

    One of them was one of the most squared away guys that there were. It was a great loss.

    It was because of sex, and we all understood. He was at a party, and there was MJ being passed around, and she wanted him to take a hit, and to give him a better chance at getting in the pants he did.

    We all understood, and knew that it could have been any one of us.

    That drug policy is some hypocrisy.

  36. But imagine how your life would change if, when you were in the military, you and your CO were forbidden from indicating to each other that you found women attractive

    Damn close to where it is now.

  37. If allowing openly gay people to serve causes less straight people to join. And causes and increase in violence toward and from gay service members. Is that a benefit?

    I mean it might not happen, but I think it will.

    If allowing black serve with whites causes less white people to join. And causes and increase in violence toward and from black service members, is that a benefit?

    I mean it might not happen, but I think it will.

  38. I always thought the concern about substance abuse was very ironic in light of the typical off-duty overseas recreation (at least where I was stationed): continuous multi-day heavy drinking.

  39. That is to say, it was often our NCOs and the occasional officer who was about leading troops out on their Charge Against Sobriety. I just can’t get worked up about the idea of some dude toking up on occasion when that kind of thing was happening..well pretty much every day. It seems to me bad troops get identified with or without drug testing anyway.

  40. kwais,

    He basically made it sound like certain soldiers, presumed gay by the rest, were sexually assaulted by other soldiers. It seemed to be a violent mix of “let’s fuck up the fag” and “any port in a storm”.

    I imagine these days, where less time is spent in the middle of the jungle a million miles from nowhere, it’s a less significant problem. But it clearly left some emotional scars for the particular person who recounted it.

  41. kwais,

    The fan dance of “unit cohesion” bothers me. The military doesn’t want gay service members because of anti-gay bias. Come out and say that. Say “Boot camp doesn’t stop us from being ignorant bigots” or “We’re all rednecks with the IQ of Jesse Helms.” (Or we could expect a little bit more from our recruits.)

    Conservatives and the military may continue to exclude gays from service to the detriment of the armed services (Arabic translators) for years to come, but please stop saying it’s based on something other than WE HATE FAGS.

  42. “The military doesn’t want gay service members because of anti-gay bias. Come out and say that.”

    Like Peter Pace.

  43. joe,

    Which ribbon on his chest is for homophobe? Surely not the pink one…

  44. There’s a breast cancer medal?

  45. The Legion of Merit is kind of purplish-pinkish.

  46. [ital] For chrissakes, Porn and Alcohol are illegal under general order number 1. [end ital]

    kwais,

    GO#1 only applies in CENTCOM (the Middle East). And even over there, in some locations alcohol is allowed, albeit rationed.

    As for porn, that prohibition is out of deference to our Muslim hosts in whose countries we’re based (who says the military is insensitive.) Outside CENTCOM, troops can, and do, have as much porn as they desire.

  47. Should have been:

    (who says the military is insensitive?)
    (Question mark)

    (…and slight sarcasm)

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