DISCRIMINATION IN THE RANKS
“ALL MEN LIKE TO FIGHT . . . EVEN GAY GUYS”
John McPherson, a staff sergeant in the army’s Quartermaster Corps, pat- ted young sailor on the shoulder and told him he was good-looking. Mortified, the handsome sailor yelled “Rape!” and ran off to alert the military police. As Mary Ann Humphrey documents in My Country, My Right to Serve, McPherson was incredulous but never believed for a mo- ment that his military career was in jeopardy. He’d been in the service for more than two years and had been cited by his company commander as one of the best men in the outfit. But the military police badgered him with questions about his sexuality; eventually, McPherson told them he was gay. Naively, he assumed his admission would not tarnish 28 months of exemplary behavior. He was wrong. McPherson was handcuffed, then driven from town to camp and forced to spend a night in solitary confine- ment. A “lousy” MP forced him to have sex that night. A different MP attempted to rape him on another occasion, but McPherson managed to fight him off. The disgraced soldier was then confined to a neuropsychi- atric ward in the station hospital for three weeks and, on February 25, 1944, he was “unceremoniously dumped” outside the main gate of camp in civilian clothes with a blue discharge certificate in his pocket. (Enlisted men had nicknamed undesirable discharges “blue discharges” after the color of paper on which they were printed.) “I was left without pride, self- esteem, and in disgrace,” McPherson said. “Army psychiatry stinks!”1
Gay soldiers died on the decks of the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor and spilled their blood on the sands of innumerable South Pacific islands. They fought and died in Europe, Japan, and everywhere else American troops bat- tled. Yet despite their many contributions and sacrifices during World War II, gays were discriminated against in the U.S. armed forces as they had been from the time in 1778 when General George Washington issued orders to remove defendants court-martialed for sodomy. In Washington’s army, the accused were subjected to a gauntlet of fifers and drummers marking their ouster and disgrace as they were literally “drummed from the corps.” These methods have changed only slightly with the passage of time. It was during World War I that the punishment of homosexual soldiers was first codified in American military law. The Articles of War of 1916 included assault with the intent to commit sodomy as a felony crime. Homosexuality was deemed a criminal act, a move that led to the imprisonment of huge numbers of gay soldiers and sailors. By World War II, homosexuality was transformed from a crime to a psychiatric illness, and regulations were adopted that banned all those with “homosexual tendencies” from the military. In 1942, the first regulations instructed military psychiatrists to differentiate between the ho- mosexual and the “normal” person, with the former deemed “unsuitable for military service.” In 1943, the final regulations were declared, banning ho- mosexuals from all branches of the military.2 Discrimination against gay men in the military was (and is) based on long-held prejudices: Gays undermine cohesion and morale; their “promiscuous” lifestyle encourages high rates of venereal disease (VD) and drug and alcohol abuse; and they are not “man enough” to fight. During World War II, the military was just as intent on preemptively screening for homosexuals at the enlistment phase as it was on curbing the spread of VD. Would-be soldiers and sailors were asked about their sexual preferences. For gays who wanted to serve their country, the only way in was to lie, and the only way to remain was to continue to lie.
Mental health tools during World War II included the “drawing a man test,” where, over pen and ink drawings, prospective recruits and enlistees were asked to draw a man. Psychologists claimed that gay men often drew a man with noticeable feminine characteristics and that they could weed out homosexuals before they ever took one more step toward joining the military.3 Of course, many homosexuals “passed” such harebrained tests and managed to enlist without being discovered. In fear, some never came out of the closet during their entire wartime experience. Others claimed to have a girlfriend or wife back home to prove their manliness. Still others tried to be as cautious as possible with varying degrees of success. The number of ho- mosexuals in the military during the war is not known. In his 1948 study of American male sexuality, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, Alfred Kinsey found 4 percent of white males he surveyed to be “exclusively” homosexual throughout their lives after adolescence and 10 percent to be “more or less exclusively homosexual” for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55. 4
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