Gays in the Military

Gays in the Military has a very long and complex history in the USA since the founding of the country. I will briefly discuss major events in US history and share two stories of significant service member. For genealogist the important take away from this blog is where to find military records.

Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (B: September 17, 1730, Magdeburg, Prussia [Germany], D: November 28, 1794, near Remsen, New York, U.S.) Since the age of 14 Von Steuben learned the art of war in the service of Fredrick the Great of Germany. In 1777 von Steuben was a Captain in the Prussian Army when his homosexual activity with other soldiers was reported by General Anhalt. He fled prosecution to Paris where he met Benjamin Franklin who gave him letters of introduction to George Washington. Von Steuben joins Washington at Valley Forge where he molded the new undisciplined, demoralized and ill-equipped rebels into a fighting force in the Prussian style that eventually won the America’s War of Independence. He received a Congressional pension and land in New York confiscated from Loyalists.

On arrival at Valley Forge his entourage included his 17-year-old lover, Peter Stephen du Ponceau. He also had relationships with Benjamin Walker, who became a Federalist congressman, and William North, who became a U.S. Senator from NY. He adopted both Walker and North, making them his heirs, which was the only means to safely create a legal relationship between two men. John Mulligan, another friend of Von Steuben inherited his vast library, maps and $2,500. Von Steuben never married and had no children.

Despite having a queer general, George Washington was still signing discharge paper for soldier accused of sodomy.  Discharges continued through the 18th and 19th centuries despite not having an explicit prohibition on sodomy. The Articles of War of 1916 defined those guilty of “assault with intent to commit sodomy” shall be court-martialed and punished accordingly.

Military psychiatry rises in the 1940s to warn that “psychopathic personality disorders” make homosexual individuals unfit to fight. The military issues the first regulations to list homosexuality as an excludable characteristic. Those in the military identified as homosexuals can be discharged and denied veterans benefits.  The military started targeting people, not just sexual acts.

During WWII, with no time for court martials, administrative and expeditious Blue Discharges were used.

These were disproportionately given to African Americans and Homosexuals. A Blue discharge was neither honorable nor dishonorable, but it carried civilian prejudice and denied the ex-servicemember VA benefits and the GI Bill.

In 1944, Reg 615-630, also known as a Section 8, established policy to admit homosexual to hospital for psychiatric examination, then discharged.

Blue Discharges are discontinued in 1947 and replaced by General Discharge. A General discharge equates satisfactory but considerable departure from duty performance and like Blue Discharges carried a substantial prejudice in civilian life. Homosexuals could also be discharged with “Other than Honorable” or Undesirable standing which barred them from re-enlisting. There are also Bad contact or Dishonorable discharges.

On January 20, 1950 Army Regulation 600-443 “Separation of Homosexuals” was published identifying three categories of homosexuals.

  • Class I was for those deemed “aggressive” and are subjected to general court-martial
  • Class II was for “active but non-aggressive” personnel who can avoid a court-martial by accepting a dishonorable discharge – or resigning, if they are officers.
  • Class III was for personnel professing or exhibiting homosexual tendencies without committing a violation of the sodomy statute. They were removed from service under general or honorable discharge.

In the late 20th century things began to turn around somewhat. In 1987, Homosexuality was completely removed from DSM as a psychiatric condition. In 1993, Bill Clinton signs compromise legislation known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). This prevented the military from investigating personnel without cause, but it didn’t work very well. In 2010, DADT was repealed by Barack Obama. DADT officially ended in September of 2011, allowing 114,000 service members separated since WWII to have General, Other than Honorable or Dishonorable discharges amended.

 The second story I want to tell is about Albert Cashier (B: Jennie Irene Hodgers, 25 Dec 1843 Clogher Head, County Louth, Ireland, D: 10 Oct 1915, Saunemin, Illinois)

Long before joining the Union army, Jennie was dressing as a man and used the name Albert Cashier. He joined 95th Illinois Infantry, Company G, on 6 Aug 1862. At Vicksburg he was captured but escaped after attacking his guard and running back to Union lines. Albert would need to carefully bathe in private and always dress alone. Diminutive and beardless compared to his comrades, he did as much work as anyone else in the company. He served for 3 years and was honorably discharged on 17 Aug 1865.

Hundreds of women, passing as men, fought on both sides of the Civil War. While other women went back to female dress and gender roles, Albert continued living as a man the rest of his life. Albert could not read or write but gained employment to supplement a veteran’s pension as a farmer laborer, janitor, a lamplighter. Professions that would have been closed to woman.

In March 1914, Albert arrived at the Watertown Illinois State Hospital for the Insane with advanced dementia. His secret was discovered, and he forced to wear women’s clothing. He slipped on his long skirts breaking a hip and never recovered. He was buried with full military honors in his Union Blues.

For genealogist it is always important to find the records. In military document it is good to know why a person was discharged. If they were discharged with anything other than Honorable, then under what statute was the discharged rationalized.

Since January 1, 1950 the DD-214 form has been the standard discharge document. Before that date discharge papers had several different names. Contacting the National Archives for Military Service Records is the best way of getting a service personnel discharge paperwork. These records are primarily held is St. Louis but depending on year or branch of service they may be in Washington DC. If the service member was Court-martialed, then look in Record Group 153.2.3.

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