Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two

Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two

by Allan Bérubé

Despite the many histories of the fighting men and women in World War II, none has been written about the estimated one million homosexuals. Here is a dramatic story of these people, revealing the history of the anti-gay policy pursued by the U.S. military authorities in World War II. Two 8-page photo inserts.

  • Language: English
  • Category: History
  • Rating: 4.19
  • Pages: 384
  • Publish Date: April 1st 2000 by Free Press
  • Isbn10: 0743210719
  • Isbn13: 9780743210713

What People Think about "Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two"

This was a fascinating, and sometimes heartbreaking and infuriating, look at the GLBT men and women who came out while serving in the armed forces during WWII. In the 1940's, sodomy was a criminal act in the United States. The war brought those men, and the women volunteers in female units, into close contact with members of their own sex under conditions of stress, fear and isolation from home. There was often a gay subculture where men or women in the know could meet and interact. Article 93 called for similar treatment for "manslaughter, mayhem, arson, burglary, housebreaking, robbery, larceny, embezzlement, perjury, forgery, sodomy, assault (including rape)..." Gay men might be treated even more harshly than the criminals, in some cases forced to sleep with the lights on 24-7 to theoretically prevent sexual acts. The women were similarly treated, sometimes even more extremely reviled by their comrades in arms and their officers. Gay men still in the closet in the forces were both painfully sympathetic and embarrassed. Despite all this, many gay men and women served throughout the war with distinction. After the war, arguments continued to rage over the release of Armed Forces personnel records to organizations like the FBI, which was charged with "ensuring public safety by identifying the homosexual menace". Men and women who had passed through the war unscathed might find themselves the target of law enforcement. These men and women risked so much, just for being who they were.

rating: 5.5/5 This nonfiction history work presents a complex analysis of the intersection of homosexuality and society, culture, military rules and regulations, and soldiers (drafted and volunteered alike) during World War II.

In chronicling the range of experiences of gay men and lesbians who served in the US military in WWII, Bérubé argues that the military's treatment of homosexuality was a crucial catalyst in the subsequent development of the notion of gays as a political class with rights to fight for, and thence for the gay-rights movement. Bérubé also argues that the progression of the war saw a general liberalization of policies toward homosexuals, borne mostly out of necessity; court-martial or administrative hearings for every gay soldier would have been a tremendous drain on resources, and discharging them all would have reduced the available pool of soldiers at a time when every one was badly needed. After the war, though, after a brief period of gratitude and tolerance in which many public voices decried discrimination against soldiers discharged for homosexuality and agitated to make them eligible for GI Bill benefits, the general cultural trend toward conformity and strict enforcement of gender roles swung the pendulum back and drove a new wave of discrimination which in turn furthered the development of the fledgling political movement for gay rights.

Besides the story of how gay soldiers tried to make a place for themselves in the army, find each other, and survive hostility, this book is illuminating as to a shift in social attitudes that was largely started off by the psychiatric profession. Some (a few) psychiatrists started with the idea that homosexuality was a personality trait that didn't necessarily cause any problems, and ironically, a few who were tasked with interviewing large numbers of soldiers for discharge came to that conclusion -- their completely ineffective protests against the army's punitive attitude were some of the earliest defenses of homosexuality in the US.

I've been researching a historical fiction novel about queer men and women in WWII for some time now, and from the preface, I knew this is the book I was looking for. Berube constantly brought LGBTIQA people to the forefront of his book, quoted them and their life stories. You read the text and are constantly reminded that someone, many people lived this experience.

Berube did a great job of seeking out information from homosexuals and government documents.

I will, as always in books like this, point out that though Berube pays lip service to bisexual and transgender people in the text, their actual appearances are minimal at best (which is to say that some of the folks interviewed or talked about might have identified as bisexual, though Berube is not explicit in identifying any,) and, in the case of transgender people in particular, are wholly absent (which is really interesting, given the rich history of particularly transgender people serving in the military.) Though I understand that wasn't Berube's intention per se, I am going to note it for potential readers.

Gerry B's Book Reviews - If I were asked to design a definitive course on the history of Gays and Lesbians in North America, I would include three books as required reading: Gay American History, by Jonathon Katz; From the Closet to the Courtroom, by Carlos Ball; and Coming out Under Fire, by Allan Bérubé Free Press, 1990. On the other hand, because of womens marginal status in the military prior to WWII, neither the Army nor the Navy had developed policies and procedures concerning lesbians. Therefore, women recruits were never asked the homosexual question, and were therefore able to enter the military undetected. Not all trainees who approached other men for sex were gay. Some older soldiers with more sexual experience in the military taught younger men how to have sex without getting caught. On the other hand, recruits who knew they were gay before entering the service were sometimes the most reluctant to have sex. In 1941, strained by the demands of a massive war mobilization that included a large influx of gay soldiers, the military could no longer handle its homosexual discipline problems by sending all offenders to prison as required by the Articles of War.1 Therefore, based on the belief that homosexuality was a mental illness, there was a concerted effort to discharge homosexuals without trial while retaining those whose services were deemed essential. However, this policy ran contrary to the common law that held homosexuality as an infamous and unspeakable crime against nature, and that the military had a responsibility to prevent such crimes with severe punishment and to protect the morals of the nations young people under their jurisdiction. It was intended as a more humane way of dealing with offenders but, as gay men and women would soon find out, it was fraught with difficulties of its own. As officers began to discharge homosexuals as undesirables, the gay GIs who were their targets had to learn how to defend themselves in psychiatrists offices, discharge hearing rooms, hospital wards, and in queer stockades. Some gay male and lesbian GIs first entered the maze when they voluntarily declared their homosexuality, fully expecting to be hospitalized and discharged. Gay veterans with blue or undesirable discharges where stripped of his service medals, rank, and uniform, then given a one-way ticket home where they had to report to their draft board to present their discharge papers. Rather, it was intended to punish homosexuals and prevent malingering, and requirement that the GI report to his draft board ensured that his community would find out the nature of his discharge. Top officials at the Veterans Administration were responsible for this denial, contrary to Army policy and Congress, but nonetheless the VA refused to drop its anti-homosexual prohibition. Moreover, the popular press began to take notice of the blue-ticket discharges, and their plight, and started to publish columns on the Homosexual Minorities, characterizing them as anther minority which suffers from its position in society in somewhat the same way as the Jews and Negroes.