Solidifying “The Straight State”

Clark A. Pomerleau

During World War II the military spread the normalization of heterosexuality and negative perception of the “homosexual.” Psychologists convinced military officials that homosexuality was a mental disorder that threatened morale and discipline. As 18 million men moved through draft boards and induction stations, staffers inconsistently asked questions designed to exclude gay men from service. Such questions heightened men’s recognition that homosexuality existed while pathologizing it. Officials feared that straight men would claim to be gay to avoid the draft; they labelled those rejected for homosexuality “sexual psychopath” as a deterrent and gave employers the right to review draft records. Women’s auxiliary units started in World War II, but criminal law usually ignored lesbian sex acts, and that invisibility extended to policies for screening women recruits. Gay service members caught having sex or suspected in systematic inquisitions faced humiliating expulsion, which left several thousand men and dozens of women with undesirable discharges (Bérubé, 1990, pp. 2, 20-21, 28-29, 201, 227, 228).

Gay and lesbian communities proliferated during and after the war, especially in cities with a military presence (Bérubé, 1990; Boyd, 2003, pp. 49, 69-81, 111-116; Buring, 1997; D’Emilio, 1983; Faderman and Timmons, 2006, pp. 73, 87; Kennedy and Davis, 1993; Meeker, 2006; Sears, 1997; Stein, 2004). In the context of the Cold War, federal, state, and local authorities redoubled efforts to regulate for a “straight state,” including Congressional laws and a presidential executive order against employing homosexuals in federal jobs (Canaday, 2009; D’Emilio, 1983; Leslie, 2000; Lewis, 1997). Recent scholars have argued that the 1950s McCarthy Red Scare most victimized gay men and lesbians (Groves, 2009; Johnson, 2004). George Harris was among thousands fired. When the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) did a background check, they asked people from his Mississippi hometown about his sexual orientation. Suddenly jobless and homeless, Harris got a ride to Texas. He met Jack Evans soon afterwards at a Dallas gay bar. As they dated, they steered clear of bars to avoid arrest, lived together, and—fifty-nine years later—became the first gay couple to marry legally in Dallas County (Wisely, 2018).


This video of George Harris and Jack Evans Being Married