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News | June 24, 2020

Pride Month recalls military LGBT champions

Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute

Multiple servicemembers
The Department of Defense recognizes the contributions of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender servicemembers each June and reaffirms its commitment to equality, integrity and respect.
Multiple servicemembers
The Department of Defense recognizes the contributions of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender servicemembers each June and reaffirms its commitment to equality, integrity and respect.
Photo By: Courtesy of DOD
VIRIN: 160608-D-D0441-0907
During Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, we celebrate our rich diversity and renew our enduring commitment to equality. Integrity and respect are fundamental qualities of our military and civilian culture.

We continue to take great pride in all that these men and women contribute to the nation and our mission. Their hard work, courage, and sacrifices make them respected members of our diverse military family. 

LGBT Americans have helped ensure that we as a force embody the values we’re sworn to uphold.  And that our republic—born from the idea that all are created equal, endowed with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—will remain strong and secure. 

These words are more than a pinnacle to strive for, they are principles we must promote every day. 

In June of 1969, patrons and supporters of the Stonewall Inn in New York City staged an uprising to resist the police harassment and persecution to which LGBT Americans were commonly subjected. This uprising marked the beginning of a movement to outlaw discriminatory laws and practices against the LGBT community.

LGBT Pride Month commemorates these events, and works to achieve equal justice and equal opportunity for LGBT Americans. Read below for profiles of LGBT champions.


Dr. Frank E. Kameny

Dr. Frank E. Kameny fought for gay rights more than a decade before the Stonewall riots.

He served in World War II and later as a civil service astronomer with the U.S. Army Map Service before being fired and banned from federal employment in 1957 because he was gay.

He was not the only one; more than 10,000 gay and lesbian employees were forced out of their jobs during the 1950s and 1960s.

Kameny decided to sue and lost. He appealed and lost again.  He brought the first civil rights action regarding sexual orientation to the Supreme Court of the United States, arguing that the government’s actions toward gays were “…an affront to human dignity.”

The Court denied his petition.  He persevered and continued to fight for civil rights for 18 years, until the U.S. Civil Service Commission reversed its policies excluding homosexuals from government employment.

Fifty years after he was fired, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management issued Kameny a formal apology for being fired solely on the basis of his sexual orientation.

Before his death in 2011, he said, “All I can say is from the long view, 50 years, we have moved ahead in a way that would have been absolutely unimaginable back then.”


Technical Sergeant Leonard P. Matlovich

Technical Sergeant Leonard P. Matlovich was a Vietnam War veteran who voluntarily served three combat tours and later served as a military race relations instructor. 

He earned the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.

He was also the first gay Service Member to purposely out himself to challenge the ban on homosexuals in the military.

Matlovich wrote a letter to his commanding officer revealing his homosexuality, asking that an exception be made because of his service record.  The commanding officer looked at it and said: “Just tear it up and we will forget it.” He refused.

His fight to stay in the U.S. Air Force after coming out became a cause the gay community rallied around. His case was covered in newspaper and magazine articles throughout the country, numerous television interviews, and in a television movie.

His photograph appeared on the cover of the September 8, 1975, issue of Time magazine, making him a symbol for thousands of LGBT Service Members and the LGBT community.

In his last public speech, Matlovich said, “…And what is our dream? Ours is more than an American dream. It's a universal dream. And our mission is to reach out and teach people to love, and not to hate.”

On June 22, 1988, less than a month before his 45th birthday, he died in his hospital room, beneath a large photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Colonel Margarethe ‘Grethe’ Cammermeyer

Another champion for LGBT equal rights was Colonel Margarethe ‘Grethe’ Cammermeyer, who assumed a courageous stand against unfair and unequal treatment of women in the military.

Her strident fight to achieve equality for gays and lesbians in the Armed Forces exerted a lasting legacy in military nursing, in the Armed Forces, and in our nation’s history.

Born in Oslo, Norway, Cammermeyer became a United States citizen in 1960 and joined the Army Nurse Corps as a student the following year. She received a B.S. in nursing in 1963 from the University of Maryland. At the University of Washington School of Nursing, she earned a master's degree in 1976 and a Ph.D. in 1991.

In 1989, responding to a question during a routine security clearance interview, she disclosed that she is a lesbian.  The military began discharge proceedings against her.
On June 11, 1992, Cammermeyer was honorably discharged.  She filed a lawsuit against the decision in civil court.

Her story drew wide attention since she was nationally recognized as a specialist in neuroscience nursing, the Veterans Administration Nurse of the Year in 1985, had earned the Bronze Star for Service in Vietnam, and was Chief Nurse of the Washington National Guard.

In June 1994, Judge Thomas Zilly of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington ruled that her discharge – and the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the military – was unconstitutional.

She continued serving as one of the few openly gay members in the U.S. military until her retirement in 1997.

During her 31-year military career she also challenged policies that discriminated against married women and women who became pregnant on active duty.

In June 2010, she was selected to the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, a committee which is appointed by the United States Secretary of Defense and which reports to the DoD.


Private Donald Hallman

After joining the Army, Pvt. Donald Hallman became a clerk for Army intelligence in Frankfurt, West Germany.  He had been rated excellent in reviews and recommended for a good-conduct medal.

Then one day on the street he was propositioned by a young man and caught in a military sting.  In 1955, the Army discharged him for being what it called a “Class II homosexual.”

The 21-year-old was so scared of being an outcast that he burned all his military records, except for an ID tag he hid away.

Hallman says he never mentioned his military service again. He married a woman he’d met at work and had children. “I hid it because it would have ruined my life,” he said in an interview at his home.

After the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” rule was repealed Hallman retrieved the ID tag and began working through an application to the DOD, asking that his decades-old discharge be upgraded to “honorable.”

He told the New York Times, “I’m kind of proud of the life I’ve lived. I worked hard, was a success, owned two businesses and have a beautiful family, 12 grandchildren,” he said. “But I feel like there is a stain on it, and I’d like to get it off there.”

In 2016, Hallman received an honorable discharge a half century after he was separated involuntarily from the Army for being gay.