Out Ranks


Out Ranks visualThe GLBT Historical Society Museum in San Fransisco are launching this month the first exhibit in the US to explore the experiences of GLBT veterans. The one-year exhibition opens in June as Congress begins planning hearings on the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” military policy in the fall. “Out Ranks” is a premier exhibit of the GLBT Historical Society, one of the world’s largest institutions for of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender historical materials. 
“Out Ranks” tracks changes in military policy and conveys the stories of GLBT veterans and peace activists from WWII to Iraq . Almost 70 years of history is told through hundreds of letters, photographs, medals, uniforms, and video footage.
The “Out Ranks” exhibit follows two related timelines, running from 1941 to the present. One timeline tracks American military conflicts from WWII to Iraq , focusing on the roles of GLBT personnel. The other timeline charts the evolution of the ban on openly gay service personnel. The two timelines meet in the center of the exhibit in the present time as GLBT service personnel fight their rights even as they defend our country in both the military and peace movements.

“When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”
Epitaph chosen by US Air Force Vietnam veteran Leonard Matlovich to mark his own grave.

Visitors to the exhibit are encouraged to walk between the timelines to explore when policies on gays in the military change and why, when and why discharges of GLBT servicemembers rise and fall, how social and political issues (such as AIDS, marriage, homophobia, and privacy) affect the military debate and how military service has affected the gay rights movement over time. 
Exhibit highlights pulled from the GLBT Historical Society’s world-renowned archives include Leonard Matlovich’s footlocker from his tour in Vietnam, Matlovich was a Vietnam vet who fought the US military in 1975 for the right to serve as an openly gay man; the Air Medal citation, letter from President Truman, and photo of Robert Ricks, a WWII B-24 bomber navigator whose plane was shot down in August 1943 and who spent the rest of the war behind German lines, including three months in Dachau; the Bronze Star Citation and photo of Robert Fleisher who helped liberate Dachau; and a photo of military police guarding the entrance of the Black Cat, a popular gay bar in San Francisco during WWII, in an attempt to keep military personnel out.
An estimated 650,000 gays served in the Armed Forces during WWII, despite the official ban on gay military service. “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,” said Charles Rowland, one of the gay draftees featured in the exhibit.
World War II offered an unprecedented opportunity for women to serve non-combat roles in the military, where thousands of lesbians found sisterhood. Pat Bond, who found herself coming out in the 1940’s joined the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) on her first day recalled her first day, “I came with my suitcase, staggering down the mess hall and I heard a voice from one of the barracks say, ‘Good God, Elizabeth, look! Here comes another one!’” Another WAC servicemember, Helen Harder, dreamed of flying and signed up with her girlfriend.
See also:
* Exhibition website
* Gay military service out for all to see, SFGate.com
* GLBT Historical Society Museum
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