Today is the anniversary of D-Day when British, Canadian and US soldiers – 160,000 of them – landed on the beaches of Normandy in treacherous weather, initiating the Western Allied effort to liberate mainland Europe from Nazi Germany. While D-Day is not a specific LGBT-related event, there were undoubtedly many hundreds of young gay soldiers killed on those beaches. 160,000 landed, 9,000 killed or wounded. Today we remember them with gratitude.
June is Pride Month and festivals and parades are happening across the world in celebration of LGBTQ+ Pride. But Pride didn’t start as a parade, it started as a protest with the Stonewall Riots in 1969 and many historians believe that the roots of these LGBT activists can be found in the World War II experiences of gays men and lesbians in the American military.
Despite the threat of persecution, gay and lesbian service members thrived during World War II. As with most young soldiers, many had never left their homes before and the war provided them an opportunity to find community, camaraderie, and, in some cases, first loves. These new friendships gave gay and lesbian GIs refuge from the hostility that surrounded them and allowed for a distinct sub-culture to develop within the military. Service members on every warfront enjoyed drag show entertainment; an entire gay lexicon was developed from the writings of Dorothy Parker; and eventually an underground queer newspaper emerged. The “Myrtle Beach Bitch” or “Myrtle Beach Belle” covertly shared news and stories between bases and units.
Gay male culture flourished in many ways in the military during the Second World War. Homosocial environments and the intimacy caused by life in combat made many in the military practice “don’t ask don’t tell” before it was even the official military stance. Drag shows were quite popular during the war, like “G.I. Carmen,” an all-GI musical stage show produced by the 253rdInfantry Regiment, 63rdDivision of the U.S. Army as a morale booster for Allied troops. There were also queer social networks of gay men.
Thousands of gay, lesbian, and bisexual men and women served in the armed forces during World War II. The massive manpower needed during the war created an ambiguous place for gay men and lesbians in military service. And gay men and women, like most groups of Americans, wanted to serve their country. You can read more about LGBTQ+ service members in Allan Bérubé’s book Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II.
If anyone is interested, the International Spy Museum is hosting a virtual talk by Samuel Clowes Huneke, author of States of Liberation: Gay Men between Dictatorship and Democracy in Cold War Germany. He will focus on how both Eastern and Western intelligence agencies sought to recruit gay men because they believed that they were naturally more conspiratorial and would thus make better agents. Huneke explores previously untapped German archives to capture this surprising story of espionage and emancipation with its colorful cast of Cold War characters.
You can register for the talk by going to the following link: Berlin Stories: Gay Espionage in Cold War Germany.
Monday, June 6, 2022
12:00 PM – 1:00 PM ET
Samuel Clowes Huneke is a historian of modern Europe, with a focus on the social and political history of twentieth-century Germany. He is broadly interested in how everyday life intersects with and shapes the relationships between citizens and states. His research foci include the history of gender and sexuality, legal history, and the history of dictatorship and democracy. Dr. Huneke received a B.A. summa cum laude in German and Mathematics from Amherst College, an M.Sc. with Distinction in Applicable Mathematics from the London School of Economics, and a Ph.D. in History from Stanford University.
I will be attending, and it looks/sounds very interesting. (It doesn’t hurt that he’s rather handsome.)