US military gays in the World War II

Abiding by the Articles of War of 1916, the U.S. military explicitly banned military service of homosexuals. However, because World War II was the largest military mobilization in the history of the United States, the guidelines and policies were sometimes loosened in order to enable large numbers of men to be inducted into the U.S. military. Strict guidelines remained, though.

During the war, soldiers looked for company far and wide. It was socially acceptable for male soldiers to seek the company of female escorts. Never an eye was batted to learn that a soldier had spent time with a lady or enjoyed a companionship of an escort. However same-sex attraction was forbidden. Thought to be a sign of mental illness or true deviance, soldiers who were deemed to be homosexuals were not allowed to become cannon fodder.

Each branch of the military (Army, Navy and the Selective Service System) developed clear procedures and policies used to spot, and therefore exclude, homosexual draftees from induction. These procedures included:

  • Screening recruits for possession of feminine body characteristics (broad hips, little to no facial hair, womanish figure)
  • Evaluating recruits for effeminacy in dress or manner
  • Examining recruits for a patulous (expanded) rectum
  • Administering a psychological test for sexual psychopathy

Using these standards, over 4,000 men (out of 12 million men screened) were rejected for service because they were determined to be gay. Thousands of women were allowed to serve, even though they were lesbians. They fell through the gaps because it was socially unacceptable to ask women about such sexual matters.

As the war effort increased and more men were needed to fill roles in the military, the guidelines and screening procedures were not as strictly adhered to. However, at the end of the war when the need for soldiers decreased, many homosexuals were discharged involuntarily.

The crime of sodomy committed by enlisted soldiers or officers in the U.S. military was a court-martialable offense. The punishment was the same whether the sodomy was committed with a fellow soldier, a male escort or a civilian man. During the time from July 1938 to May 1941, the Army convicted at least 34 soldiers for sodomy.

By 1941, the Navy morphed their screening policies and procedures into a determination that precluded service from those men “whose sexual behavior is such that it would endanger or disturb the morale of the military unit.” Great care was taken to ensure that men who had different views on sexuality were not admitted into the branch of service in order to keep peace among men. They believed that serving with homosexuals would put undue pressure on men who were already stressed from the burdens of war.

The Navy addressed their own policies in 1943 by making the switch from using “sodomists” to refer to gay men to utilizing the term “homosexuals.” These new policies applied to all male sailors and the women’s reserve units. Sailors found to be in violation of the new policy and guilty of same-sex behavior were required to resign or were discharged dishonorably.

Despite the efforts to restrict homosexual behavior among its soldiers, the U.S. military failed to cease all same-sex behavior among its ranks. While serving in Europe and on furlough in various ports, U.S. soldiers found solace in many other men’s arms, professional male escorts and fellow soldiers alike.