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Jack Strouss and his fellow recruits were nervous about a new step the Army had added to its enlistment process.
Since 1919, sodomy had been formal grounds for dismissal – and criminal prosecution. Now, just before Strouss signed up in 1942, "homosexuals" were specifically banned from the military. He recalls the group being less nervous about their sexuality than about being screened by a psychiatrist. None of the enlistees had ever talked to a shrink.
But when Strouss stepped into the room, the doctor simply asked if he liked girls. "As an avid dancer who danced with girls, I looked at him and said – quite honestly – 'Of course!' He looked at the door and yelled out, 'Next!'"
Strouss laughs at the memory.
When he enlisted, Strouss knew how to type, a skill that kept him off the front lines. He was sent to Europe to work as a clerk in Gen. George S. Patton's headquarters. "There were so many of us, and it was fairly obvious what we were," he says. "There was some teasing from the others, but not much. It just didn't make any difference."
So long as gays and lesbians were discreet, they encountered no problems. "I never knew anyone who was caught," Strouss says. "It wasn't a really huge issue. Sex was just never discussed. If somebody knew you were gay, it was fine. World War II was all or nothing, and they wanted everybody who was able-bodied."
When Strouss returned to Atlanta to take a job downtown as a federal civil servant, he found a much different and more conservative climate. Gays and lesbians were deeply closeted, and under a strong stigma. Joe McCarthy, the senator from Wisconsin, was building a career on fanning hysteria, not just against alleged communists, but also against people with "perversions" who worked in the federal government.
Strouss was at his desk one day when two men wearing dark suits walked in, flashed IDs, and asked him to come with them. They took him into a dark room with a single light bulb hanging overhead. When they started to throw out names of people Strouss knew were gay, he realized the witch hunt had reached him.
"Then they asked me the ultimate question – if I was a homosexual," he says. "I was always honest about that. I said, 'Yes.' They told me to go in and get my things, that I'd get my final check in the mail. And that was it."
After he got home, he walked over to Moe's and Joe's Tavern on North Highland for a beer. He ran into a buddy, who offered him a job as a manager in his movie distribution business. Strouss worked there for the next 27 years.
"I was lucky things worked out for me," he says. "But I'll never forget that room. It was like being in one of those interrogation scenes in an old black-and-white movie. It reminded me of the Gestapo."
Sgt. Danny Ingram knows the history of gays and lesbians in the military well, and has made a bit of his own.
As far back as 1957, a committee commissioned by the Navy determined that gays serving in the military didn't pose a security risk. The Crittenden Report, however, proposed no change in policy because the committee was reluctant to "liberalize standards ahead of the civilian climate."
The first soldier to challenge the ban was Leonard Matlovich, an Air Force Vietnam vet from Savannah. He lost the fight, but did wind up on the cover of Time magazine in 1975. When Matlovich died of AIDS in 1988, he was buried in Washington with a tombstone that reads: "My country gave me a medal for killing a man, and a discharge for loving one."
In 1987, one of the top six midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, Joseph Steffan, was six weeks away from graduation when he revealed to his commander that he was gay. Steffan was expelled, filed suit to be reinstated and eventually lost.
Then, in 1989, Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer – who had been decorated with a Bronze Star for her service in Vietnam – admitted she was a lesbian during a security check after she applied to the Army War College. Cammermeyer aspired to become the chief nurse of the Army National Guard and needed training at the college to qualify. She was refused admission and, three years later, kicked out of the National Guard. Cammermeyer filed a lawsuit and was reinstated when a federal court ruled the military's policy was based solely on prejudice.
The issue gained a tragic symbol in 1992, when a gay Navy petty officer named Allen Schindler was beaten to death by a fellow sailor in the bathroom at a park in Japan. According to his friends, Schindler had complained to his superior officers about harassment and nothing was done.
lol looks like broch recently renewed his library card
@ Mark from Atlanta "Which he was as Executive Officer on the K1. "Command of…
@ Mark from Atlanta "He was Executive Officer on the K1. No matter what his…
@ Mark from Atlanta "Politics? What part of yours or mine comments was not political?!"…
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