Memorial Day is a day we honor and remember those who have died serving our country. When I think of military service and the sacrifice members of our armed services make I can’t help but think of the members of the LGBTQIA+ community who have had to fight for the right to put their lives at risk for the rest of us. For these people they don’t simply walk into a recruiting office and enlist, but for many years they had to hide who they were inside in order to enlist. Military History cannot be fully told unless the stories of LGBTQIA+ members of the military also get to tell their stories.
It is hard to tell how many LGBTQIA+ service-people have died while in active service, many being forced to hide their true identities for fear of retribution or discharge. But there are some things we do know. LGBTQIA+ people have ALWAYS served in our military.
We know that members of our armed forces have always included LGBTQIA+, but it is difficult to find any articles that outline this service or their heroic deaths. There are stories of “closeted” men and women who joined the military for their desire to serve their country who were killed while on duty by fellow soldiers because of their sexuality. Like, Seaman Allen R. Schindler who was 22 at the time of his death and on the cusp of being discharged because he confirmed his homosexuality. Or the murder of Infantryman Barry Winchell by a fellow soldier.
In WWII recruiters were instructed to look for signs of homosexuality. This meant a “flip of the hand” or an “effeminate nature.” Even when they were “looking for signs” of homosexuality, hundreds of thousands of LGBT men and women served during this war and some gave their lives. There is a lot of evidence of how queer culture survived during active duty. Even if it is hard to find statistics of their deaths during service as so many lived their lives in the shadows.
December 21, 2015 was the day Maj. Adrianna Vorderbruggen was killed in action. Several headlines have her named as, “the first openly gay woman killed in combat.” And because Don’t ask don’t tell, had been repealed, Major Vorderbrugen’s wife and son were honored at the side of the war hero.
There is something powerful that I can’t help but linger on during this Memorial Day. That there are so many people who fought for the right to fight for me. That there are people who want so badly to serve their country, to serve me, that they not only risk their life, but die for all of us. They have given their lives to protect us all. And ALL means even those who do not think they deserve a family, happiness or peace, and yet they chose to serve. For every single war this country has ever encountered there were LGBTQIA+ armed forces there. Their deaths may have mostly been silent and their honor not acknowledged, but today I will be taking time to remember them. I may not know their names, but I honor them all.