LGBT+ History Month: Angelica Ross, U.S Navy

My mission is to prove that everyone has the right to pursue their dreams.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MARCH 05: Angelica Ross poses during the 2020 Embrace Ambition Summit by the Tory Burch Foundation at Jazz at Lincoln Center on March 05, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Tory Burch Foundation)

Transgender Rights Advocate

b. November 28, 1980

Angelica Ross is a television actress and the founder and CEO of TransTech Social Enterprises, an organization that helps transgender people find work in the technology industry.

Born male, Ross grew up in Racine, Wisconsin. Perceived as feminine by the eighth grade, she came out as gay at age 17. Her evangelical Christian mother responded so negatively, Ross attempted suicide.

Ross entered the University of Wisconsin-Parkside but dropped out after one semester and joined the U.S. Navy to qualify for the G.I. Bill. After six months of service and harassment, Ross requested and received a discharge under the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy.

At age 19, Ross transitioned to female. Her mother and stepfather rejected her gender identity. Ross eventually went to live with her biological father in Roanoke, Virginia, where she waitressed so she could attend cosmetology school. After facing discrimination in Roanoke, she moved to Hollywood, Florida, where she overhauled a website for her employer and taught herself computer code. She used the experience to start her own web design and consulting firm, while she studied acting.

Ross later found a position as the employment coordinator at the Trans Life Center in Chicago, helping transgender people secure jobs and health care. In 2014 she launched her own nonprofit, TransTech Social Enterprises, to train transgender workers in technical computer skills and help them find employment. In 2015 she participated in the White House LGBTQ Tech and Innovation Summit as a featured speaker.

In 2016 Ross landed a role in “Her Story,” a web series about transgender women in Los Angeles. The same year, the program was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama. Ross also served as executive producer and star of the short film “Missed Connections,” a black transgender love story. “Missed Connections” was an official selection at the 2017 Outflix and Outfest film festivals.

In 2018 Ross joined the cast of the critically acclaimed television series “Pose,” about New York City’s underground black and Latinx LGBT ballroom culture of the 1980s. The following year she starred as a psychologist in the FX television network series “American Horror Story.”

In 2018 the Financial Times named Ross a top 10 LGBT executive. In 2019 she served as a celebrity ambassador of the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Late in 2019, she became the first transgender person to host a national presidential candidate forum, when she hosted the official discussion of LGBTQ+ issues with the 2020 Democratic candidates. In January 2020, the luxury brand Louis Vuitton featured Ross in its ad campaign.

Articles & Websites

LGBT+ History Month: Randy Shilts, Author of “Conduct Unbecoming: Gays & Lesbians in the Military”

History is not served when reporters prize trepidation and propriety over the robust journalistic duty to tell the whole story.

Author and AIDS journalist

b. August 8, 1951
d. February 17, 1994

Randy Shilts was the first openly gay journalist to cover GLBT issues in the American mainstream press. He held positions at The Advocate and the San Francisco Chronicle and is the author of three books.

Shilts came out at age 20 and was head of the Eugene, Oregon Gay People’s Alliance. After working as the northwest correspondent for The Advocate, he moved to San Francisco to become a staff writer. He covered gay issues and city politics at San Francisco area television stations.

Shilts wrote “The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk” (1982), when a biography about a gay political figure was groundbreaking.

His New York Times best seller, “And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic” (1987), was the first major book about AIDS. It chronicles the first five years of the epidemic and exposes the infighting and inaction that led the virus to become a pandemic.  The book earned a nomination for the National Book Award and was translated into seven languages. It was adapted into an Emmy Award-winning HBO film starring Alan Alda, Anjelica Huston, Steve Martin, Matthew Modine and Lily Tomlin.

While suffering from AIDS-related causes, Shilts dictated the last chapters of “Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the US Military: Vietnam to the Persian Gulf” (1993).  The work examines homophobia in the military and is based on more than 1,000 interviews.

Shilts never compromised his professional integrity. In 1993, a year before he lost his battle with AIDS, he was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.




Other Resources

LGBT+ History Month: Frank Kameny, U.S. Army, WWII

“The momentum is there, and that’s not going to be stopped. It’s moved from hopes of a grassroots movement to the actuality of a grassroots movement.”

Gay Pioneer

b. May 21, 1925
d. October 11, 2011

Frank Kameny was the chief strategist and father of the LGBT civil rights movement. The nonviolence of black civil rights organizers Bayard Rustin and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. influenced his methods.

A World War II veteran with a Ph.D. from Harvard University, Kameny worked as an astronomer for the Army Map Service. In 1957 he was fired for being gay. By executive order of President Eisenhower in 1953, gays and lesbians were prohibited from serving as federal employees.

Kameny’s termination fueled a lifetime of activism. He fought his dismissal in the federal courts, and in 1961 he filed the first gay rights appeal to the US Supreme Court. The same year, Kameny cofounded the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., with Jack Nichols. The Mattachine Societies of New York and Washington became the first gay civil liberties organizations in the United States. Later Kameny helped start organizations that would become the National LGBTQ Task Force and the Human Rights Campaign.

Kameny, along with Craig Rodwell, took the lead in organizing the Annual Reminders—the first public demonstrations for gay equality. Held each Fourth of July from 1965 to 1969 in front of Independence Hall (which then housed the Liberty Bell), the protests paved the way for the Stonewall riot in 1969. Kameny and fellow Gay Pioneer Barbara Gittings enlisted activists from New York, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia to participate. At the first Annual Reminder, 40 brave gay and lesbian picketers carried signs demanding equality. By 1969 their numbers had more than tripled. Inspired by Stokely Carmichael’s “Black Is Beautiful,” Kameny coined the movement’s slogan, “Gay Is Good,” during this period.

After 1969, Kameny, Gittings and others suspended the Annual Reminders to marshal support for a 1970 march commemorating the first anniversary of Stonewall. Proceeding from Greenwich Village to Central Park, it is remembered as the first New York City Pride Parade.

With Gittings, Kameny waged a multi-year campaign against the American Psychiatric Association (APA) for its classification of homosexuality as a mental illness. In 1970 Kameny led members of the Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance in a demonstration at the annual meeting of the APA. The next year, Kameny, Gittings and fellow agitators stormed the meeting and Kameny seized the microphone, demanding to be heard. For the APA’s annual meeting in 1972, Kameny and Gittings organized a panel on homosexuality. When no gay psychiatrist would openly serve on it for fear of professional repercussions, Gittings recruited Dr. H. Anonymous (John E. Fryer, M.D.), who appeared masked and using a voice modulator. The three of them asserted that the disease was not homosexuality, but toxic homophobia. Consequently, the APA formed a committee to determine whether there was scientific evidence to support its conclusion.

In 1973, with Kameny and Gittings present by invitation, the APA announced the declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness. Kameny described it as the day “we were cured en masse by the psychiatrists.” At the time, the “cures” for homosexuality included electric shock therapy, institutionalization and lobotomy. With the APA’s decision, the gay rights movement was no longer encumbered by the label of mental illness and its consequences.

In 1975 the US Civil Service Commission lifted its ban on gay employees, a victory Kameny pursued relentlessly for nearly two decades. Two years later, he became the first openly gay candidate to run for Congress.

Kameny appeared in “Gay Pioneers,” a documentary co-produced by WHYY/PBS and Equality Forum about the Annual Reminders.  In 2006 the APA presented Kameny (and Gittings) with the organization’s first annual civil rights award, named in memory of Dr. John Fryer. In 2007 the Washington City Council honored Kameny as a “true freedom fighter,” and in 2009 he received a formal apology for his dismissal from the Army Map Service.

Kameny was invited to witness the signing of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act, and President Obama lauded him for his seminal efforts. As far back as the 1970s, Kameny was chipping away at the ban on gays in the military. He counseled countless potential gay inductees, closeted service members, and gay military facing discharge for their sexual orientation, and assisted scores of gays encountering problems getting or keeping security clearances.

The Library of Congress has incorporated more than 70,000 letters, documents and memorabilia from Frank Kameny’s vast personal archives into its permanent collection. A dozen of his handmade picket signs reside in the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution. Kameny’s Washington, D.C., home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Gay Is Good: The Life and Letters of Gay Rights Pioneer Franklin Kameny” (2015), edited by Michael G. Long, showcases a selection of Kameny’s searing missives, which took to task politicians, pundits, journalists and other high-profile figures.

Frank Kameny was celebrated during LGBT History Month 2014.

Read the tribute to Frank Kameny delivered at the National LGBT 50th Anniversary Ceremony, July 4, 2015.

LGBT+ History Month: Henry Gerber, U.S. Army

“Nobody believes we can do it—reporters, opponents—except ourselves.”


b. June 29, 1892

d. December 31, 1972

Henry Gerber was among the earliest gay rights activists in America. He founded the nation’s first gay organization and gay publication.

Born Joseph Henry Dittmer in Bavaria, Germany, Gerber moved to Chicago in 1913. From 1920 to 1923,  he served in the U.S. Army during the occupation of Germany. While in Germany, he was exposed to the homosexual emancipation movement. Gerber subscribed to gay publications and was inspired by Magnus Hirschfeld, founder of a German homosexual and science advocacy organization.

After returning to Chicago, Gerber founded the Society for Human Rights, which advocated for gays and lesbians. He published the organization’s newsletter, “Friends and Freedom.”

Gerber limited membership in the Society for Human Rights to gay men. Unknown to him, the vice president, Al Weininger, was married with children. In 1925, Weininger’s wife reported the organization’s activities and it was shut down for moral turpitude. The Chicago police arrested Gerber and tried him three times. Although Gerber was found not guilty, the legal fees cost him his life savings and his job.

Gerber moved to New York City and reenlisted in the Army, where he served for 18 years. He led a correspondence club called Connections, which became a national network for gay men. Under a pen name, he wrote articles for various publications, arguing the case for gay rights.

At 80, Gerber died in the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home in Washington, D.C. In 1992, he was inducted posthumously into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame. In 2001, the Henry Gerber House was designated a Chicago landmark.


  • “Inductee: Henry Gerber.” 22 June 2012.
  • Love, Chris. “Daily Kos: Top Comments: Remembering Early Gay History: Henry Gerber and the Society for Human Rights Edition.” 22 June 2012.  
  • “Social Sciences:  Chicago.” 22 June 2012. 


LGBT+ History Month: John McNeill, U.S. Army, WWII

“Jesus opens the possibility of bringing gay relationships within the compass of healthy and holy human love.” 


b. September 2, 1925
d. September 22, 2015

One year after John McNeill published “The Church and the Homosexual” (1976), a book offering a new theological look at homosexuality, he received a letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican. Religious authorities ordered McNeill, an ordained Jesuit priest, to halt public discussion on the topic.

McNeill’s book reveals original text from the New Testament detailing Jesus’s ministry to homosexuals. McNeill argues that the original Greek text of Matthew 8: 5-13 narrates Jesus’s healing of a man’s sick gay lover. The Latin translation of this passage describes Jesus’s healing of a master’s servant.

In compliance with the order from the Vatican, McNeill kept a public silence while he ministered privately to gays and lesbians. The Catholic Church, in 1988, submitted a further order to McNeill to relinquish his ministry to homosexuals. When McNeill refused, the Church expelled him from the Jesuit order.

McNeill enlisted in WWII at age 17. German forces captured him while he was serving under General Patton in 1944. He spent six months as a POW before the war’s end.

After graduating from Canisius College in 1948, McNeill entered the Society of Jesus. In 1959, he was ordained a Jesuit priest. Five years later, he earned a Ph.D. in philosophy with honors and distinction from Louvain University in Belgium.

McNeill began teaching in the combined Woodstock Jesuit Seminary and Union Theological Seminary in 1972. He co-founded the New York City chapter of Dignity, an organization of Catholic gays and lesbians. In addition to his teaching duties, he served as Director of the Pastoral Studies program for inner-city clergy at the Institutes of Religion and Health.

An accomplished author, McNeill’s works include “Taking a Chance on God: Liberating Theology for Gays and Lesbians, Their Lovers, Friends and Families” (1988) and “Freedom, Glorious Freedom: The Spiritual Journey to the Fullness of Life for Gays, Lesbians and Everybody Else” (1995). He has also published influential articles in The New Dictionary of Spirituality and The Journal of Pastoral Care.

McNeill led the New York City Gay Rights Parade as Grand Marshall in 1987. He has received numerous awards, including the National Human Rights Award in 1984, the 1997 Dignity/USA Prophetic Service Award, and the People of Soulforce Award in 2000.


Selected Works

LGBT+ History Month: Billy Sipple, U.S. Marine Corps

My sexual orientation has nothing at all to do with saving the President’s life, just as the color of my eyes or my race has nothing to do with what happened in front of the St. Francis Hotel. 


b. November 20, 1941
d. February 2, 1989

A native of Detroit, Michigan, Oliver “Billy” Sipple served in the United States Marines in Vietnam. A piece of shrapnel left him disabled. While living in San Francisco on disability pay, he became active in local causes, including the campaign of Harvey Milk, an openly gay candidate for San Francisco city supervisor.

On September 22, 1975, Sipple was standing among a group of people waiting to see President Gerald Ford as he exited the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. As President Ford emerged, Sipple noticed the woman standing next to him raise a .38-caliber pistol at the President.

Instinctively, Sipple lunged at the woman, deflecting her aim as she fired the pistol. The bullet missed the President by five feet. Police arrested the woman, Sara Jane Moore, who received a life sentence for the assassination attempt.

Following the incident, Sipple shied away from media attention. However, gay activists in San Francisco cited Sipple’s actions as a positive example for the movement. Harvey Milk said about Sipple, “For once we can show that gays do heroic things.”

Legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen wrote about Sipple, including his sexual orientation. Several newspapers across the country picked up the story, and the news reached his Michigan-based family, who were unaware of Sipple’s orientation.

The family became estranged for a period of time. Feeling wronged by the media, Sipple filed suit against the newspapers that outed him. The case was ultimately dismissed. Sipple’s experience remains an ethical debate in law and journalism schools.

Sipple became reclusive and his health worsened. He died from pneumonia in 1989. Among the personal items collected from his apartment was a framed letter hanging on the wall, which read: “I want you to know how much I appreciated your selfless actions last Monday,” signed, “Jerry Ford.”


LGBT+ History Month: Allan Bérubé, Author of “Coming Out Under Fire”

The massive mobilization for World War II relaxed the social constraints of peacetime that had kept gay men and women unaware of … each other.


b. December 3, 1946, Springfield, Massachusetts

d. December 11, 2006, San Francisco, California

Allan Bérubé is best known for his 1990 book, “Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two.” He posits that servicemen and women during the war found the freedom to explore sexuality in a relatively judgment-free environment. When these soldiers returned home, many settled into a domestic heterosexual lifestyle that launched the baby boom. But a few, knowing they were not as “deviant” as they had been led to believe, decided to stand up against homosexual persecution.

Though Bérubé dropped out of college, he maintained a lifelong passion for scholarship. In 1976 Jonathan Ned Katz’s “Gay American History” inspired Bérubé to conduct his own research. He helped to form the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay History Project. In 1979 he created a slideshow titled “Lesbian Masquerade” about 19th-century women who had passed as men. The presentation became popular and was shown repeatedly in the San Francisco Bay area.

Due to his local celebrity, Bérubé received from an acquaintance the letters of Harold Clark. These letters detailed Clark’s friendships with other gay men during World War II. Bérubé created a second slideshow lecture, which he toured with across the country. His work inspired veterans to contribute their stories to the project. Thus began the 10-year journey that culminated in the publication of “Coming Out Under Fire.”

In 1990 “Coming Out Under Fire” received the Lambda Literary Award for outstanding Gay Men’s Nonfiction and influenced the U.S. Senate’s 1993 hearings on the exclusion of lesbians and gay men from the military. A documentary adaptation of the book won a Peabody Award.


  • Allan Berube, ‘Coming Out Under Fire’ Author, Dies.” Fresh Air (interview). Posted December 17, 2007.
  • Bérubé, Allan. Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two. NY: Free Press, 1990.
  • Bérubé, Allan. My Desire for History: Essays in Gay, Community, and Labor History. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011.
  • Bérubé, Allan. “Marching to a Different Drummer: Lesbian and Gay GIs in World War II.” In Hidden from History, ed. Martin Duberman et al. 383–394.
  • Woo, Elaine. “Allan Bérubé; gay historian chronicled roles in WWII“. Boston Globe. Posted December 17, 2007.


  • Wikipedia
  • “Finding Aid to the Allan Bérubé Papers, 1946–2007.” GLBT Historical Society, San Francisco (PDF)

LGBT+ History Month: José Sarria, U.S. Army Signal Corps

Why be ashamed of who you are?

Colorized photo of José Sarria in his World War II uniform


b. December 12, 1923

d. August 19, 2013

José Sarria was a drag performer, singer and activist. He was the first openly gay man in the world to run for public office. 

Sarria, who was of Latin-American descent, was born in San Francisco. He was raised by his mother and grandmother, who allowed him to dress in women’s clothes.

During World War II, Sarria enlisted in the army. His fellow soldiers discriminated against him because he was gay. Sarria became friends with some by giving them tours of San Francisco.

Sarria began performing at “The Black Cat,” a San Francisco gay club. His shows, which included warning guests of police extortion and raids on gay bars, were a hit. Although the messages were often serious, Sarria presented them humorously and with a gay twist. He became famous for his closing song, “God Save Us Nelly Queens.”

In 1961, Sarria became the first openly gay candidate for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He lost, but received 5,600 votes, demonstrating that a gay voting bloc could wield political power. The possibility of empowerment laid the groundwork for the election of Harvey Milk.

In the 1960s, San Francisco gay bars were being shut down. The Tavern Guild of San Francisco organized a drag ball to protest. Sarria was crowned Queen of the Ball. 

Sarria cofounded the Imperial Court System, an international organization that raises money for people living with HIV/AIDS and other causes. In 2006, a street in San Francisco was named in his honor.



LGBT+ History Month: Fannie Mae Clackum, U.S. Air Force

Video of Women in the Air Force for Women’s History Month

b. June 10, 1929

d. August 16, 2014

Fannie Mae Clackum was the first person to successfully challenge her discharge on the grounds of homosexuality from the U.S military.

Clackum served as a U.S. Air Force Reservist is the late 1940s and early 1950s. In February 1951, she was ordered to active duty and stationed at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, at the rank of Corporal in the 301st Air Base Group.

In April 1951, Clackum was called before her commanding officer and the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) for questioning on “matters of homosexuality.”

According to research into the case, the OSI had reportedly set up a sting operation designed to substantiate the Air Force’s suspicions that Clackum and Grace Garner, another female servicemember, were lesbians. At the time of the April 1951 interrogation, Clackum stated she had no knowledge of allegations of homosexuality. What followed were months of interviews by the OSI.

In October 1951, Clackum was informed that some action was being contemplated against her and she was offered the opportunity to resign. She refused and demanded to be tried by court-martial in order to require the Air Force to confront her on the basis of accusations made against her. Also, to allow her the opportunity to present evidence in her own behalf.

A court martial was apparently denied. On January 22, 1952, the Air Force demoted Clackum to the grade of Private and discharged her under conditions other than honorable under A.F.R. 35-66, dated January 12, 1951.

Reportedly, Clackum and Grace Garner, both demoted and discharged, lived together in Marietta, Georgia. They spent eight years fighting their discharges in the U.S. Court of Claims on the basis of denial of due process when the Air Force denied a court martial following by discharge.

In 1960, Clackum and Garner prevailed when their respective discharges were invalidated and they were awarded back pay for the remainder of their enlistments.

Historically, Clackum’s case, along with Garner’s, were the earliest known instances of successful appeal of discharge from the U.S. Armed Forces on grounds of homosexuality but was not the basis on which the case turned. The turn came on due process claims because the U.S. Air Force largely kept Clackum unaware of the allegations and proceedings prior to her discharge. Summarily, she finally found out what had happened after she’d been summoned, demoted, and discharged in 1952.

American historian Lillian Faderman wrote the following on Clackum’s case, it is a remarkable observation and insight into the life of lesbian women in the military in the 1950s.

“Almost never did they have the energy to protest what had been done to them, although one woman, an Air Force Reservist, Fannie Mae Clackum, actually did win a suit against the government in the U.S. Court of Claims in 1960, which suggests that in somewhat saner times an objective court could understand how outrageous the military’s tactics were. Clackum demanded eight years of back pay, complaining that she was accused of homosexuality but given no trial or hearing and no opportunity to know the evidence against her or to know her accusers. From April 1951 to January 1952, she had been repeatedly questioned by an OSI officer regarding lesbianism. She was asked to resign, although she was never informed of specific charges. When she refused, she was demoted from corporal to private and ordered to take a psychiatric examination. She was finally discharaged (sic) as an undesirable at the beginning of 1952. The court found that her discharge was invalid, but Clackum was an isolated instance of a woman who dared to carry out a challenge to the reigning powers in the 1950s, since everything – the psychiatric establishment, the military’s demoralization tactics, the government, popular wisdom – militated against the lesbian believing that she had the human right to expect justice.

“A major effect that military life of the 1950s had on lesbian subculture was to confirm even further that for the outside world love between women was a love that dares not speak its name, that it would certainly not be treated with common decency and respect. But at the same time the military experience strengthened the bonds between women who chose to be part of the lesbian sisterhood; it showed them how to network and how to guard against the forces that were enemies of women who loved women. Such knowledge was also to become very useful in life outside the military. “

Lillian Faderman, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in 20th-Century America (1992)

Fannie Mae Clackum passed away on August 16, 2014 at age 85 in Marietta, Georgia. Her obituary makes no mention of her case, Fannie Mae Clackum v. United States.


LGBT+ History Month: Eric Fanning, 22nd Secretary of the Army

I feel a responsibility as secretary of the Army, not just because of the historical nature of the appointment … because I’m gay.

Secretary of the Army

b. July 2, 1968

Nominated by President Barack Obama, Eric Fanning served as the 22nd Secretary of the Army, the largest branch of the U.S. military. The confirmation made him the first openly gay man to lead a U.S. military department and the highest-ranking openly gay official ever at the Pentagon.

Born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Fanning attended the prestigious Cranbrook School. In 1990 he earned a B.A. in history from Dartmouth College. At Dartmouth he got involved in a New Hampshire primary election—an experience that cemented his interest in government and politics.

After college Fanning held various political jobs in Washington, D.C. He served as a research assistant with the House Armed Services Committee, as a special assistant in the Immediate Office of the Secretary of Defense and as associate director of political affairs for the White House. In 1997 he took a job with CBS National News in New York, working on national and foreign assignments. He went on to hold executive positions at the Business Executives for National Security, a Washington think tank, and at a strategic communications firm in New York, before becoming director of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism.

Although he never served in the military, Fanning held high-ranking posts, including under secretary and chief management officer of the Air Force and under secretary of the Navy/deputy chief management officer. He served as chief of staff to Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter.

After the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee confirmed him as Secretary of the Army in March 2016, Fanning publicly thanked his boyfriend Ben Masri-Cohen.

Throughout his career, Fanning has been a vocal supporter of LGBT service members. While serving on the board of directors of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, he supported the right of openly transgender people to serve in the military.

Featured Image: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images

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