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Episode Info: In 1975, long before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the Navy asked, and Officer Copy Berg told: “Yes, I am gay.” When Copy chose to challenge the military’s ban on homosexuals, the Pentagon fought back with all guns blazing. Episode Notes:To learn more about Copy Berg, read his 1999 New York Times obituary here. The Times first reported on Copy’s case in this March 1976 article.The less-than-honorable discharge Copy received from the military after his administrative hearing was upgraded to honorable in 1977. The following year, the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled that the Pentagon could not discharge homosexuals from the military without offering specific reasons in addition to their homosexuality; read Copy’s appeal here and the judge’s decision here. (Thousands of additional documents pertaining to Copy’s case can be found among his records in the Manuscripts and Archives Division of The New York Public Library.)While Copy’s case was unfolding, President Jimmy Carter’s Administration had been putting pressure on the Pentagon to change its policy against homosexuals. Midge Costanza, a top aide to President Carter, was instrumental in the effort; for more on Midge, listen to our episode with her then-partner Jean O’Leary here.In 1981, the Department of Defense reaffirmed its ban on gay men and women serving in the military, but it amended its policy to state that those forced out solely for reasons of homosexuality would receive an honorable discharge. The change applied retroactively as well so that any person who had been discharged for homosexuality could apply to have their discharge upgraded. Read Copy’s reflections on the qualified victory in this 1981 Philadelphia Gay News interview.Lawrence Gibson, Copy’s civilian boyfriend during his time in Italy, chronicled Copy’s case in Get Off My Ship: Ensign Berg vs. the U.S. Navy (illustrations by Copy). In 1979, Lawrence and Copy were interviewed together by Enlisted Times and WBAI (interview starts at 5:02).In the episode, Copy references Senator Joseph McCarthy’s persecution of homosexuals, a time known as the Lavender Scare (concurrent to the better known Red Scare). For a short history of the era, read this National Archives article. For a more complete account, read David K. Johnson’s The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government, which was recently made into a documentary. The episode also mentions Air Force Sergeant Leonard Matlovich and his lawsuit challenging the military’s ban on homosexuals. Read more about Leonard here and here. For more information on LGBTQ folk in the military, start here. For a more in-depth look, check out Allen Bérubé’s Coming Out under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II (which was also made into a documentary film) or Randy Shilts’s Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military. The Library of Congress has a few oral histories with LG...
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