Gays: A Struggle for Acceptance
"When the dust settles and the pages of history are written, it will not be the angry defenders of intolerance who have made the difference, that reward will go to those who dared to step outside the safety of their privacy in order to expose and rout the prevailing prejudice."
- John Shelby Spong
Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Newark, NJ
November 21, 1996
During World War II and especially the twenty years after brought great political and social changes to the U.S.. Undoubtedly, one of the major changes was the new awareness of homosexuality. If this new awareness was to the advantage or if it was really wanted by the gay and lesbian population is a question that arises; if they really had a choice in the matter is another. I think gays' relentless struggle for acceptance into mainstream society came from the American constitution itself. After all, the gay liberation movement started in America, the land of the free, where all men are created equal and with an inalienable right to pursue their own happiness. No one should be able to take these rights away from anyone. Also, in the 1950s, the civil rights movement became active and words like desegregation and equal rights for all became synonymous with the American way of life. Stand up and fight against those who have done you wrong! This is what gave homosexuals such a conviction to start fighting for their own cause. This paper will follow the progress of gay and lesbians in the twentieth century before, during and after World War II. What was their position in the armed forces during the war and what was government and military policy during and after the war on gays in the army and in government positions? How did gay and lesbians respond to the new policies after the war and why were organizations like the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis founded? On December 7, 1941 at 7:55 a.m. local time, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The Unites States declared war on Japan and was suddenly a participant in the largest war in the history of mankind. A massive military force of 12 million men was assembled. American soldiers were sent to Europe and Japan to participate and win the Big One. The military bureaucracy grew accordingly and thousands of new jobs were created. With the military's enormous demand for personnel, drafted American men found themselves in isolated gender segregated environments. All the big war movies depict this with the GI's longing for leave so he could go downtown and find himself a prostitute. What these movies do not show is a new community, within the military, of homosexuals who until now lived socially isolated lives because they were either unsure of what they were or of their sexual preferences or just plain scared of what people would think if they found out their secret. In the military, these people found other gay men who were in the same predicament. They weren't alone.
Before the war, gays and lesbians were almost invisible from society. They were not mentioned in the popular media and the general population was oblivious to their existence. An occasional arrest or school expulsion of a Asexual psychopath@ were the only vague signs that the public would hear about. Now that the military accepted or at least needed the cooperation of all men, including homosexuals, an important page had been turned in the progress of gay rights, however, it also set the scene for discrimination and prejudice. Homosexuals were in all branches of the armed forces, from paper pushing to front line combat. Before enlisting, interrogators had forced them to describe their lifestyle, which in turn made it impossible for homosexuals to continue hiding in the closet but instead had to take the first step in living a new open lifestyle. They were classified as Asexual psychopaths@ on their military records, however, they were not being discriminated by the military at this point in time. An...
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