Saturday, 23 May 2020

80 More Gays Around the World: Part 12) Don't Ask

Last time on “80 More Gays”: 31) Barbara Love (b.1937) competed in the US swimming trials for the 1952 Olympics, in which 32) Marjorie Larney (b.1937) competed before being involved in the anti-Vietnam War  protests in which 33) David Mixner (b.1946) took a leading role, who was later joined in another campaign by 34) Leonard Matlovich (1943-1988).

While 33) David Mixner was organising the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam 34) Leonard Matlovich was recovering from the injuries he received after stepping on a land mine in Da Nang in central Vietnam. This was during his second tour of duty as a sergeant in the US Air Force.

Leonard Matlovich is best remembered for being a pioneer in the fight for the acceptance of lgbt personnel in the US armed forces. For most of his military career he was regarded as an exemplary sergeant. He was described in 1974 by Major Donald D. Baines as “one of the most outstanding NCOs I have had the pleasure of working with during my Air Force career… Matlovich is an absolutely superior NCO in every respect and should be promoted to Master Sergeant well ahead of his contemporaries”.
The military honours of Sgt. Leonard Matlovich.
Sadly, the opposite happened. At the time Matlovich was beginning to recognise that he was homosexual. In March 1974 he read an interview in “Air Force News” with 35) Frank Kameny (1925-2011), an openly gay ex-serviceman who lost a Supreme Court case to overturn his discharge from the US Army Map Service. He had become an activist and supporter of other personnel who had been discharged.

Leonard contacted Frank who confessed that he had been hoping to find a serving openly gay military personnel with a perfect record to create a test case on the ban on lgbt people in the armed services. Matlovich’s air force record was perfect and he agreed to be that person. Matlovich wrote a letter which he handed in to his commanding officer on 6th March 1975 containing an admission of his homosexuality.

The result was an administrative discharge hearing and a formal honourable discharge. The subsequent appeals, campaign and fame of Leonard Matlovich, which included being the first openly lgbt person on the front cover of “Time” magazine, is well covered on the internet, so I needn’t go into it here. But let’s go back a step to David Mixner.

Despite being anti-war Mixner joined Bill Clinton’s campaign to become President of the USA in 1992. Mixner had experience in political campaigns and was persuaded to join Clinton’s race to the White House because he was a personal friend and because Clinton had promised to increase funds for AIDS research and to lift the ban on lgbt military personnel.

When Clinton was duly elected his policy on AIDS funding included the establishment of vaccine research, as mentioned in my immediately preceding article. His promise to end the ban on lgbt military personnel turned into “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, which was effectively nothing. Mixner led several protests against what he thought was Clinton’s betrayal.

The “Don’t Tell, Don’t Ask” policy was repealed by President Obama on 22nd December 2010. At the signing ceremony Frank Kameny was seated in the front row of the audience. As well as being a leading campaigner for the ending of the military ban Frank was also a co-founder of the Mattachine Society in 1961. The society organised protests and pickets outside US government buildings which were to inspire Craig Rodwell (mentioned here) to create the Annual Reminder, the forerunner of the modern Pride march. I’ll write more about that next month.

Even with people like Frank Kameny, Leonard Matlovich and David Mixner making advances in lgbt inclusion in the armed forces in the USA opposition still exists, particularly with the Trump administration and transgender personnel. While there may no longer be any military discharges for homosexuality it has a long history that goes all the way back to the American War of Independence.

The first recorded instance was in 1778 with the case of 36) Frederick Gotthold Enslin (c.1740- after 1778). Englin arrived in America from Rotterdam in the Netherlands in 1774. In 1777 he enlisted into Col. William Malcom’s Regiment of the 3rd Pennsylvania Brigade. The regiment was stationed at Valley Forge. Also there was Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (1730-1794), who turned the army into a formidable fighting force. During the following winter George Washington arrived with his army to lead the war from there.

Less than a year after enlisting Lt. Frederick Enslin was reported to Col. Malcolm by a solider who had seen him having sex with another soldier. Enslin reported the witness for slander and the case eventually went before the commanding officer, Lt.-Col. Aaron Burr.

This is the same Aaron Burr who later became Vice President of the USA under President Thomas Jefferson. He had a famous feud with another Founding Father, the bisexual Alexander Hamilton, who was also at Valley Forge as an aide to Washington (Hamilton, von Steuben and Enslin all at Valley Forge at the same time!). The Burr-Hamilton feud was finally settled in a duel in which Burr killed Hamilton.
A fairly accurate artistic impression of the camp at Valley Forge in 1777-8, taken from the “Assassin’s Creed” videogame.

The outcome of Burr’s investigation into Frederick Enslin’s slander case was not in doubt. The case was thrown out and he was found guilty of perjury and the original charge of homosexuality. A report was then handed to George Washington who agreed with the verdict and ordered Enslin to be dismissed and, literally, drummed out of the army. The soldiers of Valley Forge gathered to see Enslin marched out of the camp to the accompaniment of pipes and drums.

No-one knows what happened to Enslin after that. His final known act was to be the first soldier discharged from the US military for his homosexuality. He was actually very lucky, because had his trial taken place in his native Netherlands he would have been executed.

Over a century earlier another Dutch colonial was burnt at the stake for his homosexuality. His name was 37) Joost Schouten (c.1600-1644).

Next time on “80 More Gays”: We go looking for trade in Japan, reacquaint ourselves with the Dog Shogun, and return to give thanks.

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