Out Of The Darkness: Vintage Photos Of Black Gay G.I.s

African-American soldiers in the South Pacific would hold parties where, "many dressed as women and homosexual practices were common."

Before the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, same-sex relationships in the military were strictly forbidden. Of course that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist.

Ironically, military policy actually helped foster a gay community among some African-American service members.


As Allan Berube writes in Coming Out Under Fire: The History Of Gay Men and Women in WWII :

Two doctors at the 9th General Hospital on Biak, a coral island in the South Pacific, reported much homosexuality among the soldiers.

[They] noted that men in a black company, who were prohibited from dating the white women on the island, organized Saturday night parties “in which many men appeared dressed as women and at which homosexual practices were common.”

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The onset of WWII meant the brass was willing to look the other way when it came to lesbians in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). But it wouldn’t turn a blind eye to integration.

In most parts of the country, hotels and motels, as well as the military bases, were racially segregated, at times making it impossible for black or interracial couples or groups to rent a room.

…One WAC testified that she asked a “dyke” from Fort Jackson, South Carolina, if the white and black lesbians were able to mix.

“I asked her how they managed there, and I knew they couldn’t go to hotels together… and she told me they would meet in town, get a cab, and go out to this Savoy Inn.”

She described the Savoy Inn as a tourist campsite outside Columbia, South Carolina, that allowed both blacks and white customers to rent cabins.

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During the Vietnam War, Perry Watkins became one of the first servicemembers to challenge the ban against homosexuality, and the only person ordered reinstated to active duty by a court order.

ASPEN, CO - JANUARY 23:  Zumanity by Cirque du Soleil performs onstage during the Logo New Now Next Honors From Aspen Gay Ski Week on January 23, 2016 in Aspen, Colorado.  (Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images for Logo)

Of course we can never know the full stories behind these images, but they help to re-create a truth that was obscured for decades.

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h/t: The Gay Reich

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.