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Part I
by Denny Meyer

In 1948, President Harry S. Truman had the courage to order the racial integration of America's armed forces.  At the time, bigots went ballistic shouting that they could not abide showering with a Negro nor possibly take orders from one.  At about that time, Colin Powell was born and due to ongoing educational and career discrimination it took some 40 years, following Truman's executive order, for him to become this nation's first Black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Now the grandsons of those narrow minded bigots must surely be shuddering in horror at the idea of Gay and Lesbian Generals and Admirals someday leading our soldiers and sailors.  But, their fears are years to late, centuries in fact.  We have always had Gay military leaders and heroes, ever since the American Revolution.

As the individualistic woodsmen hunters of the colonial militias that comprised the Continental Army failed against the highly organized British forces, General Washington sent Benjamin Franklin to Paris to meet with Prussian military genius Lieutenant General Frederick Von Steuben, to ask him to come and train the American troops.  Realizing that his  reputation as a homosexaul was becoming a bit of a problem in Europe's kingdoms, he agreed.  Von Steuben arrived at Valley Forge, that cold winter of 1778, with a young French nobleman who was his 'assistant' and lover.  As he spoke almost no English, Washington assigned two young inseparable officers, who were fluent in French and were lovers, to work with Von Steuben to translate his work.  They were 20 year old Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton (who was also likely to have been this nation's first mixed race officer) and 24 year old Lieutenant Colonel John Laurens (who was the son of the President of the Continental Congress that year, Henry Laurens).  Laurens later died in battle, becoming one of America's first Gay heroes.  Their love letters still exist.  It is unlikely that General Washington, engaged in founding a nation, had the time or inclination to concern himself with who was sleeping with whom.  Elsewhere at Valley Forge, with some 10,000 troops that cold winter, a Lt. Enslin and Private Monhart were discovered, apparently in flagrante, by Enslin's cabin mate.  Enslin was court-martialed and literally 'drummed out of the service' by Lt. Colonel Aaron Burr.  His sword broken over his head, his rank insignia ripped from his uniform, Enslin had the distinction of being the first known American soldier dishonorably discharged due to homosexuality.  Twenty six years later, Vice President Aaron Burr murdered Alexander Hamilton in a duel in Weehawken New Jersey.  We can only speculate as to whether Burr disliked Hamilton's bi-racial status, his economic policies, or perhaps his bisexuality. 

Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Americans have patriotically served in our nation's armed forces throughout the past 230 years.  Many women, who wanted to serve, posed as men; their biological gender discovered only after they died in battle.  World War II Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight Eisenhower's driver and sidekick Johnnie Phelps wrote, after the war, of an incident at that took place during the Allied German Occupation.  One day Eisenhower came into the headquarters office, with Phelps at his side as usual, and said that he'd become aware that there were lesbians in the barracks and he wanted a list of their names prepared so that they could be gotten rid of.  Phelps wrote that she immediately told him that her name would have to be at the top of the list.  His secretary then piped up saying that, as she was typing the list, her name would have to go first.  After a moment, Eisenhower told them to forget about it. (Factual portions of this and the previous paragraph were derived, in part, from Conduct Unbecoming by Randy Shilts).

In 2003, at a summer Pride rally in a small park in the heart of New York City, I met an elderly couple who had strolled into the park to see what the festivities were all about.  He wore a WWII VET baseball cap and had his arm around his wife's shoulders.  Seeing that I was wearing a veteran's garrison cap, he asked me what was going on.  I told him that it was a Gay Pride rally and that I was handing out leaflets advocating the right of gay people to serve in our armed forces.  He nodded and told me that he'd been in the Normandy Invasion and that on that dreadful D-Day, as they stormed the beach under an incessant hail of machinegun fire and artillery, there were five men in his unit that everyone knew were homosexuals.  He said, gravely, "The German bullets didn't discriminate; we all took care of each other and covered each other."  I nearly wept to hear an eighty five year old hero of the war say those words.

In the late 1970s, in San Francisco, at an early Pride festival, I met Leonard Matlovitch who had served heroically in Vietnam, earning a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.  In the early 70s he'd written a letter to the Secretary of the Air Force, proclaiming that he was gay.  He was promptly dishonorably discharged.  And so many others with his courage had the same result when they bravely were honest in simply saying who they were.  In the summer of 2005 Sgt. Robert Stout took shrapnel in combat in Iraq.  He was the epitome of a fresh faced blond American soldier and his superiors decided to award him his purple heart in front of the news media.  Sgt. Stout stood stoic and patriotic, and then announced that he wanted to continue to serve but wanted to do so honestly and openly as a gay man.  He was not allowed to reenlist.  The list of victims of this ideological discrimination would fill a phone book, as it continues to this day at a rate of two discharges per day, over eleven thousand in the past 13 years alone.

The movement advocating the right of patriotic Americans to volunteer to serve in our armed forces, regardless of sexual orientation, began long before the Don't Ask Don't Tell law was enacted in 1993.


Part II
The Gay Veterans Movement To
Achieve Equality In America's Armed Forces