World War II Introduction:
Regulations and anti-sodomy laws had limited gay service since the Revolutionary War, leading to dishonorable discharge, courts-martial, or imprisonment for men found having sex with other men. The massive manpower needs during World War II and the growing influence of psychiatry in America led the military to classify some homosexual troops as psychologically unfit for service. Still, among the sixteen million Americans who served in the Armed Forces during World War II were hundreds of thousands of gay and lesbian military personnel who proudly served. As Charles Rowland, a gay draftee from Arizona explained, “We were not about to be deprived the privilege of serving our country in a time of great national emergency by virtue of some stupid regulation about being gay.”

A navigator on a B-24 bomber, Robert Ricks was captured after his planed was down in August 1943. He spent the rest of the war a POW behind German lines, including three months at Dachau. (Materials from GLBT Historical Society collections.)
Robert Fleischer helped liberate the POWs and concentration camp survivors at Dachau. Fleischer had earlier been awarded a Bronze Star for courage under fire in a battle at Würzberg, Germany. (Materials from GLBT Historical Society collections.)
Vincent Miles dropped out of college in 1943 to join the army. As a medic with the all-black 92nd Infantry Division, he saw combat in Italy and North Africa. (Photo from GLBT Historical Society collections.)
The war inspired revolutionary changes for American women, both gay and straight. The formation of the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) and other auxiliary services in allowed 275,000 women to fill non-combat roles in the military. Lesbians in the WACs often found sisterhood in all-female units.
Among the WACs, Iowa recruit Pat Bond was not the only one coming out in the 1940s. “I came with my suitcase, staggering down the mess hall,” Bond recalled of her first day, “and I heard a voice from one of the barracks say, ‘Good God, Elizabeth, look! Here comes another one!’” (Photo from GLBT Historical Society collections.)
As a young girl, Helen Harder dreamed of flying. She signed up for the Women’s Army Air Corps with her girlfriend. (Photo from GLBT Historical Society collections.)
On the home front, World War II accelerated the social changes that the Great Depression had begun, inspiring millions to migrate for war industry jobs or for enlistment and deployment. As historian Allan Bérubé argues in Coming Out Under Fire, “the massive mobilization for World War II relaxed the social constraints of peacetime that kept many gay men and women unaware of themselves and each other.” (Book from GLBT Historical Society library.)
Only about 5000 of the eighteen million men called before draft boards and medical inspectors during World War II were screened out initially because of homosexuality. Soldiers like Norm Sansome whose sexuality was discovered after joining the service received dishonorable blue discharges. With sexuality as a reason for separation, such discharges made it difficult to find work or return home to small towns after the war. (Materials from GLBT Historical Society collections.)
Burt Gerrits served in the navy as a medical corpsman during World War II. Ironically, as a gay man, Burt worked on a psychiatry ward where gay sailors were sent before being kicked out. The sailors the Burt met on the ward introduced him to the gay bars becoming popular in San Francisco during the war.
Away from the small town authorities and conservative mores, young gay men found new identities and new communities. In the years after the war gay and lesbian migrants joined what was already a thriving gay community in the city by the bay. (Newspaper from the GLBT Historical Society collections.)