Editor’s note: Welcome to another installment of our weekly War Books series! The premise is simple and straightforward. We invite a participant to recommend five books and tell us what sets each one apart. War Books is a resource for MWI readers who want to learn more about important subjects related to modern war and are looking for books to add to their reading lists.
Rounding out Pride Month, this week’s installment from Bradford Wineman showcases five books on the American LGBTQ+ community and the military.
It has been over a decade that gay and lesbian men and women have been serving openly in the US military. Pride Month offers us an opportunity to learn and reflect about the experiences of these veterans who have served in the ranks of the American military since its founding. The books on this list showcase the countless challenges that these service personnel had to endure, from combat with the nation’s enemies to the prejudices within their own services. In spite of these ordeals, these LGBTQ veterans, both past and present, have served with great success and their stories reinforce that their motivations to wear the uniform reflect the same reasons as their heterosexual brothers and sisters in arms: patriotism, loyalty and a call to serve a higher purpose. As the coeditor of the last selection, Lieutenant Colonel Bree Fram, summarizes, “We don’t want special status; we don’t want to be a different class of citizens. We want to serve.”
Fighting to Serve: Behind the Scenes in the War to Repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” by Alexander Nicholson
In 2010, the Department of Defense repealed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and officially allowed homosexual service personnel to serve openly in the US military. While this decision was a monumental victory for the LGBTQ community, both inside and outside the military, the road to this achievement was a daunting one. Alexander Nicholson, the founder of Servicemembers United, chronicles the nearly decade-long fight in the media, in the public, and on Capitol Hill to gain support for the policy’s repeal. Through tireless interviews, rallies, meeting, and public appearances, the advocates for repeal made their case to the American people about the legal, ethical, and patriotic rights for gay service personnel leading to the historic legislative act.
Ask & Tell: Gay and Lesbian Veterans Speak Out, by Steve Estes
Arguably the most valuable insight into the impact of the Department of the Defense’s prejudicial approach toward homosexuals before the 2010 legislation is from the service personnel themselves who served under its restrictive policies. Professor Steve Estes conducted over fifty interviews from gay and lesbian veterans to chronicle the nearly three-quarter-century struggle of homosexuals who served in silence in the US military. His research highlights that these veterans served with both honor and distinction, in spite of keeping their sexual orientation secret, proving that the service of homosexuals actually made the military stronger over the last several decades.
Fighting with Pride: LGBTQ in the Armed Forces, edited by Craig Jones
Fighting with Pride examines the experience of gay and lesbians serving in the British military from World War II to the present day. Historically, our NATO allies have been more forward leaning in pursuing progressive policies regarding diversity and inclusion in their ranks. However, this success came only as a result of countless years of hardship of those who paved the way for the British government lifting the ban on homosexuals serving in the year 2000. Readers will appreciate some of the differences of this international perspective but also acknowledge the many similarities of how these men and women struggled both personally and professionally in the defense of their country.
While we tend to analyze the dynamics of the LGBTQ community and military service in our current sociopolitical context, we often lose sight of the countless number of gay Americans who have served in uniform over the last 250 years. There are numerous books on gay service personnel serving in all of America’s wars but Coming Out Under Fire is one of the most poignant. The nation has celebrated the “Greatest Generation” of the mid-twentieth century for making the world safe for democracy. Historian Allan Bérubé’s award-winning volume notes that several hundred thousand gay men and women from this era volunteered to join the military in spite of risk of being discharged as an “undesirable.” This study provides much-needed historical context of the motivations of LGBTQ individuals to serve, which have carried forward now over generations.
With Honor and Integrity: Transgender Troops in Their Own Words, edited by Máel Embser-Herbert and Bree Fram
Similar to Steve Estes’s examination of the gay and lesbian military experience, this book explores the compelling narratives of transgender service personnel over the last several decades. Taking a handful of accounts from the estimated 15,500 transgender troops and 134,300 transgender veterans, the editors offer perspectives, both the good and the bad, of those who have had to navigate not only the discriminations of their services but the frequently changing policies of the military itself. As these policies are still a political football in the present day, this volume concludes with some insightful recommendations for the long-term success of transgender service.
Bradford Wineman is a professor of military history at USMC Command & Staff College and codirector of the Marine Corps University Reynolds Scholars Program for Women, Peace and Security.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.
Image credit: Master Sgt. Joe Harwood, Ohio National Guard