LGBT+ History Month: Anne McClain, U.S. Army

There are no average days or normal days in outer space.

NASA Astronaut

b. June 7, 1979

Anne McClain is a former NASA astronaut and U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who served as flight engineer for Expeditions 58/59 to the International Space Station. She is the second LGBTQ person to become an American astronaut.

Born and raised in Spokane, Washington, McClain dreamed of becoming an astronaut from an early age. She graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point with a degree in mechanical and aeronautical engineering. She earned a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Bath and a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Bristol, where she was a Marshall Scholar. A competitive athlete, she played rugby for the Women’s Premiership in England and for the U.S.A. Rugby Women’s National Team.

Following her studies, McClain joined the U.S. Army as a helicopter pilot, rising through the ranks to detachment commander. She served 15 months in Operation Iraqi Freedom, flying more than 216 combat missions as pilot-in-command. In 2010 McClain was appointed commander of C Troop, 1st Battalion, 14th Aviation Regiment, responsible for the Army’s initial entry training, instructor pilot training and maintenance test pilot training in the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. During her military service, she logged more than 2,000 flight hours in 20 different aircraft.

In 2013 McClain was selected as one of eight members of the 21st NASA astronaut class, becoming the youngest astronaut on NASA’s roster. The selection made her the second gay American astronaut after Sally Ride and the first out active NASA astronaut. In 2015 McClain completed the rigorous candidate training process, including scientific and technical training, physiological training, intensive instruction in International Space Station systems, spacewalks and robotics, T-38 flight training, and water and wilderness survival training.

From December 2018 to June 2019, McClain served as flight engineer on NASA Expedition 58/59 to the International Space Station. The flight launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard the Soyuz spacecraft. McClain was one of three crew members on the expedition, along with Canadian David Saint-Jacques and Russian Oleg Kononenko. McClain and the crew contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and earth science, including investigations into small devices that replicate the structure and function of human organs, editing DNA in space for the first time, and recycling 3D-printed material. McClain conducted two spacewalks totaling 13 hours and 8 minutes. She returned to earth after spending 204 days in space.

McClain resides in Houston, Texas. She has a six-year-old son, Briggs.

Articles & Websites:

LGBT+ History Month: Tom Waddell, U.S. Army

Winning is doing your best.


b. November 1, 1937

d. July 11, 1987

Tom Waddell was an Olympic athlete and founder of the international sporting event, the Gay Games.

Born Thomas Flubacher in New Jersey, Waddell’s parents divorced. At 15, he moved in with his neighbors, Gene and Hazel Waddell, who adopted him. Waddell attended Springfield College, where he studied pre-medicine and was a star gymnast and football player. In 1960, he enrolled at New Jersey College of Medicine. In the early 1960’s, he participated in the African-American civil rights demonstrations in Alabama.

In 1966, Wadell joined the Army and served as a medical doctor. Two years later, he competed in the Olympics, placing sixth in the decathlon. Because of a knee injury, he retired from athletics. After the Army, Waddell completed a graduate fellowship at Stanford University.

In the mid-1970’s, Waddell came out to friends and family and began exploring the burgeoning gay scene in San Francisco. After attending a gay bowling competition, he was inspired to organize a gay sporting event. Modeled on the Olympics, he founded the Gay Games, which first took place in 1982 in San Francisco. Originally called the “Gay Olympics,” the U.S. Olympic Committee sued Waddell for the use of the word “Olympics” and the organization was renamed “Gay Games.”

In 1981, Waddell began a relationship with Zohn Artman. That same year, he met lesbian athlete Sara Lewinstein, and they decided to have a child. After their daughter was born, Waddell and Lewinstein married.

Waddell experienced the success and international impact of the Gay Games. “Tom wanted to emphasize that gay men were men, not that they were gay,” said Waddell’s biographer. “He didn’t want them to lose their homosexual identity, or hide it; he just didn’t want them to be pigeonholed by it.” In 1987, Waddell died of AIDS-related complications.


Books about Tom Waddell


LGBT+ History Month: Felicia Elizondo, U.S. Navy

I am your history. You can never change that no matter what you do to me.

Transgender Activist

b. July 23, 1946

Felicia Elizondo is a self-described “Mexican spitfire, screaming queen, pioneer, legend, icon, diva, 29-year survivor of AIDS and Vietnam veteran.” Her activism has been crucial in raising public awareness of transgender rights and history.

Elizondo was born in San Angelo, Texas. Assigned male at birth, she knew she was “feminine” from the age of 5. Due to the lack of awareness of transgender people, Elizondo grew up believing she was gay. She was sexually assaulted by an older man and suffered bullying and name calling from her peers.

At age 14, Elizondo moved with her family to San Jose, California. Around the age of 16, she found refuge at Gene Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, where she became a regular. It was one of the few places in the city where drag queens and transgender women could congregate publicly. In 1966, three years before Stonewall, it became the site of one of the first LGBT riots in U.S. history. The Compton’s Cafeteria riot was led by a group of transgender women against police harassment.

Elizondo joined the Navy at age 18 and volunteered to serve in Vietnam. She decided, “If the military couldn’t make me a man, nothing would.” While serving, she realized she would always be attracted to men and told her commanding officer that she was gay. Consequently, she was interrogated by the FBI and the CIA, and the Navy dismissed her with an undesirable discharge. Later, she successfully petitioned to have her discharge reclassified as honorable.

After seeing “The Christine Jorgensen Story,” a film about the first nationally known transgender American woman, Elizondo came to understand her own identity. She completed gender confirmation surgery in 1973.

In 1987, during the AIDS epidemic, Elizondo tested positive for HIV. She returned to San Francisco and began working with community organizations seeking to improve quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS. She became a trans drag queen and organized drag shows to raise funds for numerous HIV/AIDS nonprofits.

Elizondo has worked extensively to bring public attention to transgender history. In 2006, due largely to her efforts, the city of San Francisco renamed the 100 block of Taylor Street as Gene Compton’s Cafeteria Way. In 2014 Elizondo successfully worked with San Francisco city supervisors to rename the 100 block of Turk Street in honor of her late friend Vicki Marlane, a transgender icon.

Elizondo appeared in the documentary “Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria” (2005). In 2015 she served as the lifetime achievement grand marshal of the San Francisco Pride Parade.

Articles & Websites:

LGBT History Month: Perry Watkins, U.S. Army

For 16 years the Army said being homosexual wasn’t detrimental to my job. Then, after the fact, they said it was. Logic is a lost art in the Army.

Pioneering Military Activist

b. August 20, 1948
d. March 17, 1996 

Staff Sgt. Perry Watkins, a self-avowed homosexual, is waiting to see if the Army appeals federal court rulings that he can stay in the service in Tacoma, Washington on Nov. 13, 1982. He says he told the Army before he was drafted in 1968 that he was gay and that he has performed in drag in numerous Army shows. For years the Army did nothing, but now wants him out. “I didn’t lie to the Army, “says Watkins, 34. (AP Photo/Barry Sweet)

Perry J. Watkins was an African-American soldier who won a landmark lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of his military discharge due to his homosexuality.

At age 19, Watkins was drafted during the Vietnam War. He did not hide his sexuality on his pre-induction paperwork and served openly, even though U.S. policy barred homosexuals from the military. 

Born in Joplin, Missouri, Watkins was raised by a single mother who always encouraged his honestly. He was open about his homosexuality in high school, at a time when both gay and black Americans were stigmatized.

In the 1970s, while serving in Korea, Watkins volunteered to entertain the troops. He performed in drag, using the stage name Simone. Off duty, he took his show to Army clubs in Europe.

The Army accepted Watkins’s reenlistment three times following honorable discharges. Each time he responded candidly to inquiries about his “homosexual tendencies.” Several times the military conducted investigations into Watkins’s sexual conduct. All of them ended due to insufficient evidence.

In 1975 the military sought to discharge Watkins for being gay, despite his excellent record. His commanding officer testified that Watkins did “a fantastic job” and insisted his homosexuality had no impact on his performance. Watkins retained his enlistment and in 1977 was granted a security clearance. It was revoked two years later, due again to his sexual orientation. Represented by the ACLU, Watkins filed a lawsuit to challenge the revocation. In response, the army filed discharge proceedings. 

After a protracted legal battle, the Army dismissed Watkins permanently in 1984, at the end of his enlistment period. Thereafter, Watkins worked for the Social Security Administration while he fought the discharge.

In 1988 a federal court of appeals ruled in Watkins’s favor. It was the first time an appellate court ruled against the military ban on homosexual servicemembers. The Bush Administration appealed the decision.

In 1990 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision and ordered Watkins’s reinstatement. He settled for a retroactive promotion, an honorable discharge, back pay and full retirement benefits.  

In 1993 Watkins served as grand marshal of the New York City Pride Parade. The documentary “SIS: The Perry Watkins Story” was released in 1994. The University of Michigan Law School awards an annual fellowship in his memory.
At age 47 Watkins died of AIDS-related complications. The New York Times published his obituary.







Website: IMDb, “SIS: The Perry Watkins Story (1994)

LGBT History Month: Margarethe Cammermeyer, Col., WA National Guard

I wear my uniform at every inappropriate moment to remind people of gays and lesbians who have to serve in silence in the military.

Military Officer

b. March 24, 1943

In 1992, Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer became the highest-ranking military officer discharged on the basis of sexual orientation. Cammermeyer was dismissed as chief nurse of the Washington State National Guard after disclosing she was a lesbian during a routine security clearance interview. She challenged the U.S. military’s ban on homosexuals in federal court. In 1994, she was reinstated as chief nurse, making her one of the few openly gay or lesbian members of the military.

Cammermeyer was born in Oslo, Norway, during the Nazi occupation. Her parents sheltered Norwegian resistance forces. Cammermeyer credits her parents’ courage as her inspiration for defending civil liberties.

In 1951, Cammermeyer’s family moved to the U.S. She became a citizen in 1961 and joined the U.S. Army Student Nurse Program. After receiving her B.S. in nursing from the University of Maryland in 1963, Cammermeyer reported for active duty.

At her request, in 1967, Cammermeyer was deployed to Vietnam where she served as head nurse of a neurosurgical intensive care unit. She calls this time in her life “the most extraordinary experience any military nurse could have been a part of.” Cammermeyer was honored with the Bronze Star for Meritorious Service. In 1985, she was named Nurse of the Year by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In 1964, Cammermeyer married a fellow soldier and had four sons. The couple divorced after 15 years. In 1989, Cammermeyer met her life partner, Diane Divelbess.

Cammermeyer’s autobiography, “Serving in Silence” (1994), received critical acclaim.  The book was turned into a made-for-TV movie, executive produced by Barbra Streisand and starring Glenn Close. The film generated more than 25 million viewers and received three Emmy Awards and the Peabody Award. It was one of the first television movies about a gay person. 

Cammermeyer retired in 1997 after 31 years of service. She served on the Military Advisory Council for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and was an outspoken advocate for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”




Other Resources


LGBT History Month: Alan Turing, WWII Cryptologist/Mathematician

I believe that at the end of the [20th] century . . . one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.


b. June 23, 1912
d. June 7, 1954

Alan Turing led the British codebreaking team that cracked the German Enigma Code, thereby helping the Allies win World War II. He is considered the father of computer science.

Turing was by nature skeptical and indifferent to conventional values. While often at odds with authority, he made remarkable connections between apparently unrelated areas of inquiry, including treating symbolic logic as a new area of applied mathematics.

In 1936, as a fellow at King’s College, Cambridge, Turing wrote “On Computable Numbers,” his landmark paper, which is considered the founding work of modern computer science. After completing doctoral work at Princeton University, Turing returned to Britain in 1938, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Turing’s potential ability as a codebreaker was identified, and he was introduced to the secret operations at the Government Codes and Ciphers School in London. On September 4, 1939, the day after Britain declared war on Germany, Turing reported to work at Bletchley Park, Britain’s codebreaking center. He led the team that broke the German codes, thereby assuring success for the Allies and shortening World War II. His story became the subject of the 2014 Oscar-winning biographical film, “The Imitation Game,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing.

At the conclusion of the war, Turing’s ambition was to create a computer. His contention that the computer could rival the computing power of the human brain correctly anticipated the field of Artificial Intelligence.

In the postwar years, Turing competed as a distance runner, reaching near-Olympic times in the marathon. Asked why he engaged in such demanding training, he replied, “I have such a stressful job that the only way I can get it out of my mind is by running hard.”

Turing lived at a time when homosexuality was regarded as a mental illness and homosexual acts were illegal. Despite his critical wartime role, when his relationship with a Manchester man became public, he was charged with “gross indecency” and forced to accept hormone treatment with estrogen. He lost his security clearance and suffered physical, emotional, and cognitive effects from the treatment.

Turing died in 1954, shortly before his 42nd birthday, after eating a cyanide-laced apple. His death was ruled a suicide.

In 2009, the British Prime Minister apologized for the government’s inhumane treatment of Turing. Years later, under legislation known as “Turing’s law,” the British government granted pardons to thousands of men convicted of crimes related to their sexuality. In July 2019, the Bank of England announced that Alan Turing will be the new face of the 50-pound British bank note, which is expected to enter circulation by the end of 2021.


LGBT History Month: Miriam Ben-Shalom, U.S. Army

A reporter asked me how it felt to be a gay person in the military, and I couldn’t see any reason to lie.


b. May 3, 1948

Miriam Ben-Shalom is the first openly lesbian service member to be reinstated by the U.S. Army after she was discharged in 1976 for being gay.

Ben-Shalom took the Army to court over the matter. In 1980 a judge with the U.S. District Court in Chicago ruled that her dismissal violated the First, Fifth and Ninth Amendments of the Constitution. The Army refused to honor the ruling, resulting in a seven-year court battle that ultimately forced her reinstatement. The former staff sergeant—one of only two female drill sergeants in the 84th Division of the U.S. Army Reserve—then returned to service until 1990.

Ben-Shalom was one of six openly LGBT veterans who cofounded the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Veterans of America (GLBVA), known today as the American Veterans for Equal Rights. She spent many years advocating against the military’s LGBT ban. In 1993 she chained herself to the White House fence to protest “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), the military policy that required soldiers to remain closeted in order to serve. In 2010 Ben-Shalom was arrested for again chaining herself to the fence, along with fellow activist Dan Choi, to urge President Barack Obama to end DADT. The president signed the repeal of DADT later that year.

“I hope my community will take time to remember those who came before and those who fought recently and lost,” she said when the act was repealed. “Remember, too, and remain watchful. Merely because something ends does not mean it will end well. Ask any of us who helped to make history about that.”

Born in Wisconsin, Ben-Shalom also became an Israeli citizen when she was 19 and served in the Israeli Army during the War of Attrition. She is now a member of the New England Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Veterans and the California Alexander Hamilton American Legion. She lives in Milwaukee with her partner, Karen Weiss.


  • Estes, Steve. Ask & Tell: Gay and Lesbian Veterans Speak Out, University of North Carolina Press, 2007.
  • “Frontlines: Military Gays Fight Back,” Mother Jones (June 1976).
  • Ocamb, Karen. “Former Sgt. Miriam Ben-Shalom on the Personal Impact of Serving in Silence,” Frontiers (November 22, 2010).


LGBT History Month: Dan Choi, U.S. Army/National Guard

Action and sacrifice speak much more loudly than the best crafted, eloquent speech.


b. February 22, 1981

Lt. Dan Choi is a West Point graduate, Iraq War veteran and Arabic linguist. He was the nation’s leading activist for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT).

Choi was born in Orange County, California, and raised in an evangelical Korean-American household. His father is a Baptist minister; his mother is a nurse. Inspired by the film “Saving Private Ryan,” Choi decided to attend West Point.

After graduating from West Point with degrees in Arabic linguistics and environmental engineering, Choi served as an Army infantry officer in Iraq. In 2008 he transferred from active duty to the Army National Guard. That same year, Choi and a group of West Point alumni founded Knights Out, an organization supporting the rights of LGBT soldiers.

In 2009 Choi appeared on the “The Rachel Maddow Show” and said something that would change his life forever: “I am gay.”  Within a month, the U.S. Army notified him that he was being discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” When he received his discharge papers, Choi knew he had to fight back. He wrote an open letter asking President Obama to repeal the policy and reinstate him, calling his discharge “a slap in the face.”

Choi sent his West Point graduation ring to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It was a reminder to the senator of a promise he made to repeal the ban on gays and lesbians in the military.

Choi became the leading activist and national spokesman for the repeal of DADT. His media savvy drew attention to the issue. In 2010 he was arrested three times for handcuffing himself to the White House fence during protests.

Later in 2010 Choi was invited to the White House to witness President Obama signing the repeal of  “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Afterward, Senator Reid invited Choi to his office, where he returned Choi’s West Point ring. “The next time I get a ring from a man,” Choi responded, “I expect it to be for full, equal American marriage.”

He is a recipient of Equality Forum’s 2011 International Role Model Award.


  • “Dan Choi Explains ‘Why I Cannot Stay Quiet.” ABC News.  19 May 2011.
  • “Daniel Choi.”  Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 19 May 2011.
  • “Lt. Dan Choi – Biography, Advocacy, Appearances.” Lt. Dan Choi Official Website. 19 May 2011.
  • Resto-Montera, Gabriela. “Dan Choi Gets West Point Ring Back After DADT Repeal.” 20 May 2011.

LGBT History Month: Tammy Smith, Maj. Gen., U.S. Army Reserve

Anyone who has ever busted through a glass ceiling got cut a little.

U.S. General

b. 1963

U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith, right, the Army Reserve’s director of Human Capital Core Enterprise, and her partner, Tracey Hepner, attend the second annual Knights Out Dinner at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y, March 23, 2013. Smith was a Courage Award recipient and keynote speaker at the event. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Stanley Maszczak/Released)

Tammy Smith is the first out lesbian general in the U.S. Army. She was named a brigadier general in 2012 and formally promoted during a ceremony at the Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. She became the commanding general of the 98th Training Division.

Born in Oakland, Oregon, Smith began her military career when she received a four-year Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship. She graduated from the University of Oregon in 1986 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Quartermaster Corps.

During her 30-year military career, Smith has served as a platoon leader in Panama, a logistic support detachment commander in Costa Rica and a company commander in South Carolina. She was stationed in Afghanistan, where she was chief of Army Reserve affairs during Operation Enduring Freedom.  

Smith holds a Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership from the University of Phoenix and received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Lincoln University. She has been decorated with numerous medals and awards and is in the ROTC’s Hall of Fame. 

Smith married Tracey Hepner in 2012. The ceremony, held at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, was officiated by a military chaplain just two years after same-sex marriage was legalized in the nation’s capital. 

“For me it’s really been transitional,” Smith said in an interview, “to go from being 100 percent in the closet to being globally gay.” She continued, “She [Tracey] has been so wonderful in helping me cut loose the shackles of those 26 years in the military, of having to hide a part of myself. I don’t live a double life anymore.” 

Hepner founded the Military Partners and Families Coalition, a national military advocacy organization that provides support, education and resources for LGBT military members and their families. Smith has become active in LGBT events and advocacy and has been honored by many LGBT organizations and publications. She served as grand marshal of the 2013 Gay Pride Parade in Washington.

LGBT History Month: Malcolm Forbes, SSgt, U.S. Army

Failure is success if we learn from it.


b. August 19, 1919
d. February 24, 1990

Studio portrait of American businessman and Forbes magazine publisher Malcolm Forbes (1919 – 1990), New York, New York, 1987. He stands with his arms crossed and copy of his magazine in one hand. (Photo by Bachrach/Getty Images)

Malcolm Forbes was an American businessman and publisher of Forbes, a magazine founded by his father in 1917. 

The son of a Scottish-born journalist and an American mother, Forbes was born in Brooklyn and grew up in New Jersey. After graduating from Princeton as a political science major, Forbes enlisted in the Army in 1942 and served in Europe as a machine gunner in the 84th Infantry Division. He rose to the rank of staff sergeant before he was wounded in combat. He received both the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his heroism. 

Forbes served as a borough councilman and later as a state senator in New Jersey. He ran unsuccessfully for New Jersey governor in 1957. It was publishing, not politics, however, that would eventually cement his fame and fortune. 

Forbes acquired control of the family business in 1964, cultivating Forbes magazine into one of the most successful print publications in the world, covering real estate, finance and business. The magazine, which is published in print and online, is still owned and operated by his family. 

During the 1980s, Forbes became known for his lavish lifestyle and celebrity-studded parties. He regularly discussed his holdings, which included private jets, yachts, an international art collection and homes around the world. Actress Elizabeth Taylor co-hosted his legendary 70th birthday party in Morocco, for which the rich and famous were flown in on private jets. Forbes also gave millions of dollars to charity. His worth was estimated between $400 million and $1 billion.

In addition to life as a publishing mogul, Forbes became the first person to fly coast to coast in a hot air balloon; he also flew over Beijing, setting a world record. 

It was only after his death in 1990 that he was outed in a story called “The Secret Gay Life of Malcolm Forbes,” written by Michelangelo Signorile. In the controversial exposé Signorile asked, “Is our society so overwhelmingly repressive that even individuals as all-powerful as the late Malcolm Forbes feel they absolutely cannot come out of the closet?” The Forbes family has always denied the allegations. 

Forbes was married for 39 years and had five children.

LGBT History Month: Katherine Miller, U.S. Army

It’s about vocalizing what the voiceless cannot say and making visible those who are invisible.


b. November 13, 1989

In this photo provided by Katherine Miller on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010, Miller, a lesbian cadet at the U.S. Military Academy, is shown. Miller on Monday, Aug. 12, 2010 asked to resign from the U.S. Military Academy because she can no longer lie about her sexuality and was troubled by the anti-gay attitudes of some around her. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Katherine Miller) NO SALES

Katherine Miller was the last West Point cadet discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). She is a 2012 Yale graduate. With the repeal of DADT, Miller enlisted in the Army as an officer.

Raised in Ohio in a conservative military family, Miller’s dream was to become an officer in the Army. In 2008, she enrolled at West Point and excelled as a cadet, ranking in the top one percent of her class. She faced hostility from those who believed her to be a lesbian. After two years at the academy, Miller said, “I could not square my integrity with the daily half-truths that came with hiding my sexuality.”

In 2010, Miller came out to her commanders and leaked her letter of resignation to the media, effectively initiating her own discharge. The following day she discussed her decision on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” and became a spokesperson for the repeal of DADT. After her discharge, Miller transferred to Yale University.

Miller served on the founding board of OutServe, then an underground organization of gay active-duty service members. She represented the organization at major media engagements, most notably escorting Lady Gaga to the MTV Video Music Awards to mobilize viewers for the DADT repeal.

Miller was the most important lesbian voice in the repeal of DADT. As a tribute to her activism, she was invited to the White House for the signing of the repeal bill in 2011.

Miller was named a Truman Scholar, a Point Foundation Scholar and one of Out magazine’s “Top 100 Influential Men and Women of 2010.”


LGBT History Month: Eric Alva, SSgt, U.S. Marine Corps

I joined the military because I wanted to serve. I was patriotic, idealistic; I was also gay.


b. April 1, 1971

Staff Sgt. Eric Alva waves to delegates after he was honnored during the GOP state convention in San Antonio, Friday, June 4, 2004. Alva lost his leg after stepping on a land mine in Iraq. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Retired Staff Sergeant Eric Alva was the first American soldier wounded in the Iraq War. He is a GLBT civil rights activist and a national spokesman for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Alva is a native of San Antonio, Texas. He inherited his middle name from his grandfather and father, both Marine veterans named Fidelis. “Semper Fidelis,” the official Marine Corps motto, means “always faithful.” Serving in the military was Alva’s dream.

In 1990, the 5-feet-1-inch-tall Alva enlisted in the Marine Corps. He made it through the rigors of boot camp and went on to serve for 13 years. In 2000, he was promoted to Staff Sergeant.

In 2003, on the first day of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Alva was with his battalion in Iraq when he stepped on a land mine. The explosion shattered his right arm and damaged his right leg so severely it had to be amputated.

Alva received a medical discharge and was presented with a Purple Heart by President George W. Bush. He was the Iraq War’s first Purple Heart recipient.

Having survived a war injury, Alva felt he’d been given a second chance at life. He discovered a new calling. “I had to use my voice,” he says. “I had fought and nearly died to secure rights for others that I was not free to enjoy. I had proudly served a country that was not proud of me.”

In 2003, Alva received the Heroes and Heritage Award from La Raza. People magazine honored him with the Heroes Among Us Award (2004). He received the Patriot Award from the city of San Antonio (2004), and the Public Citizen Award from the National Association of Social Workers (2008).


Books by Eric Alva

Books about Eric Alva

Videos of Eric Alva

Press Conference Transcript


LGBT History Month: Christine Jorgensen, U.S. Army

Nature made a mistake, which I have had corrected.

Soldier/Transgender Pioneer

b. May 30, 1926
d. May 3, 1989

Christine Jorgensen was the first nationally known transgender American. She used her fame to speak out on behalf of transgender people.

Born George Jorgensen Jr. and raised in the Bronx, she described herself as a “frail, tow-headed, introverted little boy who ran from fistfights and rough-and-tumble games.” In 1945, after graduating high school, Jorgensen was drafted into the Army.

Jorgensen researched gender reassignment surgery. While visiting Copenhagen, she met Dr. Christian Hamburger, an endocrinologist and specialist in rehabilitative hormonal therapy. With Hamburger’s help, Jorgensen became one of the first to combine hormone therapy with gender reassignment surgery. She chose the name Christine to honor Dr. Hamburger.

In 1952, based on an intercepted letter to her parents describing her transformation, the New York Daily News ran the headline “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty.” The media incorrectly called Jorgensen the first person to undergo the surgery, which had been performed since the late 1920’s in Europe. She returned to New York City and used her fame to advocate for transsexual and transgender people.

Jorgensen continued her transition by having a vaginoplasty. In 1959, she became engaged to Howard Knox. They tried to wed, but the marriage license was rejected because Jorgensen was legally a male. The media reported the story, Knox lost his job, and the relationship ended.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Jorgensen spoke at universities across the nation about her life. She became a singer and actress performing in Las Vegas, New York City and Hollywood. Jorgensen appeared in the documentary “Paradise Not For Sale” (1984) and was the focus of “The Christine Jorgensen Story” (1970). Jorgensen authored “Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Biography” (1967).


  • “Christine Jorgensen.” July 18, 2012.  
  • McQuiston, John. “Christine Jorgensen, 62, Is Dead; Was First to Have a Sex Change.” July 18, 2012.  
  • “Christine Jorgensen: Biography” July 18, 2012.



LGBT History Month: Mary Edwards Walker, Surgeon, Union Army

b. November 26, 1832
d. February 21, 1919

You men are not our protectors… If you were, who would there be to protect us from? 

A steadfast feminist, Mary Edwards Walker defied nineteenth century patriarchal society by refusing to live within the confines of gender-based roles. As a student, physician, and activist, Walker defined her place in society while paving the way for future generations of women.

Diverging from the norm, Walker’s liberal parents encouraged her and her five sisters to attend college and pursue careers. Her father, a self-taught doctor and advocate of women’s dress reform, largely influenced Walker.

In 1855, Mary Edwards Walker graduated from Syracuse Medical College, becoming one of only a few female physicians in the country. She married fellow student and physician Albert Miller in an unconventional ceremony. Walker wore trousers and a man’s coat and chose to keep her last name. The marriage ended four years later.

At the onset of the Civil War, having been denied a position as an Army medical officer, Walker volunteered as a nurse for the Union Army. During the next few years she served in several battles including the First Battle of Bull Run and the Battle of Fredericksburg. Despite her service, Walker often found herself at the scrutiny of male superiors who questioned her credentials.

The Confederate Army captured Walker in 1864 and held her captive for four months.  Shortly following her release, Walker became the first woman commissioned as Army Surgeon, earning a monthly salary of one hundred dollars.

The following year, Walker became the first and only woman in history to receive a Medal of Honor, the highest military honor in the United States. The bill, which President Andrew Johnson signed upon the recommendation of two major generals, reads:

Whereas it appears from official reports that Dr. Mary E. Walker, a graduate of medicine, has rendered valuable service to the Government, and has devoted herself with much patriotic zeal to the sick and wounded soldiers, both in the field and hospitals, to the detriment of her own health, and has also endured hardships as a prisoner of war four months in Southern prison while acting as contract surgeon…It is ordered, That a testimonial thereof shall be hereby made and given to the said Dr. Mary E. Walker, and that the actual medal of honor for meritorious services be given her.

After the war, Walker continued to live a nonconformist lifestyle. A strong advocate of dress reform, she wore men’s clothing exclusively and was arrested on several occasions for impersonating a man. In 1917, Congress revoked her Medal of Honor after revising the criteria for receiving the medal. Walker refused to return the medal, wearing it until her death.


Mary Edwards Walker Papers, Syracuse University

LGBT History Month: Robert W. Wood, 36th Infantry Division, U.S. Army

“Is it proper for two of the same sex to enter the institution of marriage? To which I must reply, ‘Yes.’ ”

Soldier/Gay Pioneer

b. May 21, 1923
d. August 19, 2018

Reverend Robert W. Wood is the first member of the clergy to picket for gay rights. He wrote the first book in the United States on Christianity and homosexuality and was the first to call for church-sanctioned gay marriage.

Wood began his undergraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in September 1941, three months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. He enlisted in the Army soon after and was severely wounded during the invasion of Italy. He received an honorable discharge, a Combat Infantry Badge, a Purple Heart, two battle stars and a Bronze Star for heroic achievement in combat. A chapter of the book “We Went to War: New Hampshire Remembers” recounts his story.

With the help of the G.I. Bill, Wood graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and then the Oberlin Graduate School of Theology. In 1951 he was ordained at the Congregational Church in Fair Haven, Vermont. He spent 35 years as a parish pastor.

In 1956 Wood wrote “Spiritual Exercises,” an article for a gay physique magazine that featured a photo of him in his clerical collar. It was his way of coming out. After meeting Edward Sagarin, who wrote the groundbreaking book “The Homosexual in America” (using the pen name Donald Webster Cory), Wood was inspired to write “Christ and the Homosexual” (1960) under his own name. In the book, Wood called for the Christian Church not only to welcome homosexuals, but also to recognize same-sex marriage, which he had performed long before it was legal. In 1960 The Mattachine Society and The Prosperos honored Wood with Awards of Merit.

From 1965 to 1969, Wood bravely protested in his clerical collar at the Annual Reminders, the first public demonstrations specifically demanding gay and lesbian equality. Held each Fourth of July in front of Independence Hall, the Annual Reminders launched the LGBT civil rights movement and paved the way for the Stonewall riot. At the first Annual Reminder, 40 gay and lesbian activists from New York, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia participated. By 1965 their numbers had more than tripled.

In 1962 Wood met Hugh M. Coulter—an artist, a cowboy and a fellow World War II veteran—in a gay leather bar in Manhattan. A month before the first Annual Reminder, the couple marched in the nation’s first gay picket line in Washington, D.C., with 18 other gay men and 7 lesbians.

Wood and Coulter spent 27 years together and wore matching gold wedding rings. Coulter died in 1989.

Wood appeared in “Gay Pioneers,” a documentary about the Annual Reminders co-produced by WHYY/PBS and Equality Forum. In 2001 the Christian Association at the University of Pennsylvania honored him as a gay pioneer, and in 2004 the United Church of Christ Coalition of LGBT Concern presented him with its pioneer award.

After he retired, Wood moved to New Hampshire. He died at home at age 95. The New York Times published his obituary.



Website Powered by

Up ↑