Tony Guadagnino is a marketing consultant. Located in New Jersey, his clients are based across the country, focusing on social media to build their presence on the internet. He studied creative writing in college and is currently working his first novel on the subject of bullying. He lives with his partner Mark.
As I gay man, I know that I did not choose to be gay, as many heterosexual people unfortunately believe to this day. My response to the people who believe I made a choice is always the same: Do you remember the day you chose to be straight? Nobody chose to be straight because that is who you are. Nobody chooses to be gay, too; that is who we are.
Homosexuality in America can be traced way back to the early settlers, better known as the Pilgrims. In 1637, two male colonists at Plymouth were arrested for being gay. John Alexander and Thomas Roberts faced charges of sodomy for being in love and expressing their love in a sexual relationship. Back then, men who were convicted of this “moral crime” were immediately executed. However, Plymouth was still a small English colony, and the judge was hesitant to impose the death penalty on the small community’s neighbors. Nevertheless, they were punished for their “crime.” John Alexander, who was considered to be the seducer of the banned relationship, was branded on his shoulder with a hot iron and banished from the colony, forced to go on his into the unknown land. Thomas Roberts, who was an indentured servant (who remembers that term from history class), was found “less guilty.” He was returned to his master and was forbidden to ever own land or to ever vote at Plymouth. In time, though, Roberts was allowed to own property and participate in the politics of Plymouth.
Most people don’t think about homosexuality during the time of the Pilgrims, or even during the American Revolutionary War, yet it’s there, buried in our history books. General George Washington had brought to his army Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, who was an officer in Germany. Von Steuben, who has been threatened with prosecution for being homosexual, escaped Germany and sailed to America. He joined Washington’s army at Valley Forge in February 1778, became an American general, and later a senior advisor to President Washington. Despite rumors, his sexual orientation was neither questioned nor investigated, and he died with full military honor.
Everyone knows the history of gays in the military was not favorable until the last few years. The U.S. military would discharge soldiers for homosexual acts throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century even in the absence of any explicit act of sodomy. The Articles of War from 1916 stated that anyone subject to military law who committed “assault with intent to commit sodomy” would be court-martial and dishonorably discharged. It was modified in June 1920, when sodomy was listed as a crime.
In October 1949, the Department of Defense standardized anti-homosexual regulations across all branches of the military: “Homosexual personnel, irrespective of sex, should not be permitted to serve in any branch of the Armed Forces in any capacity, and prompt separation of known homosexuals from the Armed Forces is mandatory.” In 1951, President Harry S. Truman later signed the Uniform Code of Military Justice, forbidding sodomy among all military personnel, defining as “any person subject to this chapter who engages in unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex or with an animal is guilty of sodomy. Any type of penetration is enough to complete the offense.”
The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, introduced by the Clinton Administration, prohibited any homosexual or bisexual person from disclosing his or her sexual orientation, or from speaking about any homosexual relationships, including marriages, while serving in the military. Any service members who disclose that they are homosexual or engage in homosexual conduct would be discharged. It wasn’t until President Barack Obama’s sign of the Repeal Act of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in 2010 that gays and lesbians were allowed to serve openly in the military. It is President Obama whom we need to thank for fixing a problem in the military that lived for centuries.
During this month of November, with both Veterans Day and Thanksgiving are being celebrated, take a moment to remember the fight that the LGBT community has battled. Be grateful every single day! We’ve come a long way from 1637.