“We had heard about these very frightening psychiatrists who were going to grill you. We thought they were the all-seeing people. . . . So, I walked in and I sat down and he look, he called me by name and he said, ‘Private, do you like girls?’ I said, ‘Well, of course I like girls.’ My best friends were girls, and I love girls. ‘Next!’ That was ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t tell’ in those days.” Jack Strouss WWII Veteran
For centuries gay and lesbian military members have bravely fought for Americas freedoms. They have sacrificed, endured, and relinquished themselves. They have suffered through hardships, pain, experienced combat, have lost their brothers and sisters in arms, seen and committed acts that no human should ever be asked to commit, have sustained service connected disabilities, and some have even paid the ultimate price.They served proudly, and fought bravely. All this, only to be degraded, hunted down, discriminated against, forced to live in fear, silence, and eventually for some, discharged from the military and left with no benefits.
Here are some of the stories these veterans have to share during there time in an unaccepting service.
“In those days, we served in silence. And not one day passed when you didn’t worry that you were going to be found out . . . . When men are at sea, they horse around. And so, they’d wrestle on the floor with 30 guys shouting. But when anybody wanted to do that with me, I would grab their neck and bounce their head against the bulkheads — ‘I don’t go for that,’ you know.” In an interview with NPR, Meyer explains how his unwilliingness to partake in wrestling lead his shipmates to percieve him as the “straightest guy around”. Ironiclly this perception of him later lead to officials requesting for his aid in the “witch hunt for homosexuals”. His response to this was, “I don’t know nothing about that.” Meyer admits that during his time in the military he lead a lonely life. For fear of any kind of slip up or suspicion directed towards him could result in a discharge from service.
Measurments and screenings were in place to filter out any gays and lesbians, however the efficacy of the medical practices used were unethical and questionable. Gays and lesbians who were identified during their service were sent to psychiatric wards where psychiatrists would perform experiments on them to see how they might be able to identify gays during recruitment, one such experiment was the “gag test”. If the recruit did not show a gag reflex when a tongue depressor was inserted in the mouth then they were presumed gay. Before the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy if any service member was found to be a homosexual they were given a blue discharge, or undesirable discharge; however, some were actually given a dishonorable discharge. Whether given a blue discharge or a dishonorable discharge the service member was stripped from all military benefits, they were not entitled to VA health care or compensation benefits for injuries sustained from service, they could not apply for VA home loans, and could not receive any benefits under the Montgomery G.I. bill. To make things worse a service member’s hometown officials were notified of their sexuality; some service members could not return home due to the stigma that was placed upon them.
“Back then, the treatment was barbaric. . . . These are queers! These are lesbians! Stay away from these homosexual women. . . .They tried everything they could to try to break us down to what they thought we were.” Lisa Weiszmiller
Lisa’s trauma and struggle is just one example of a service member who was victimized and criminalized, but there are well over 100,00 service members who suffered the same treatment due to their orientation. The introduction of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 1993 did not change the environment for gay and lesbian service members and over 13,000 service members were seperated from the military under the DADT policy.Many speculated that lifting a ban on gays and lesbians would affect unit cohesion, cause great damage to the military, or result in higher military deaths. Given the circumstances it is difficult to find straight members of the military community speaking about serving alongside gays and lesbians. This could be because of the policies put in place, or for the fear of placing a fellow service member in danger, or maybe because orientation in the military doesn’t matter.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” censors their reality from our public conscience. The policy’s scheme, however, has one substantial flaw: the truth. Gays are serving, and always have. We have 1 million gay vets to prove it.” Jeff Cleghorn
DADT did increase the level of stress and created a fearful living environment on top of an already stressfull military lifestyle. Fortunately for some gay and lesbian service members their dedication to duty and outstanding service was all that mattered; “you’re a good soldier”, was the response some gay and lesbian service members recieved after being investigated for their sexuality, while their case is pushed aside and ignored; allwoing them to continue their service.
Having served alongside gay and lesbian service members myself I was compelled to make an archive post in their honor. This small post by no means exemplifies the full sacrifice and hardships our gay and lesbian service members have endured.The military veterans of the LGBTQ community have never stopped fighting. I find these brave members to be among the most resilient and courageous of all warriors who have ever served. For not only have they sworn to defend Americas freedoms (even freedoms they were not entitled to) they have continued to fight and have led the way towards equality rights and justice for all.
“When I was in the military they gave a me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one”. Leonard Matlovich
The repeal of DADT in 2011 has now allowed for gays and lesbians to serve freely and openly in the armed forces. Veterans who have received other than honorable discharges due to their orientation can file a claim and upgrade to an honorable discharge.