Remembering Allan Berube as the termination of DADT nears

by on September 19, 2011  •  In Military

Imgres Allan Berube, who died in 2007, was a friend, a gifted community-based historian, and a wonderful man. His best known achievement was writing the pathbreaking history of gay and lesbian service members during World War II – Coming Out Under Fire. The book contains fascinating narratives from the people Allan interviewed and the letters and diaries he collected. Then, as now, military experience for gay men and lesbians was a mixed bag: it enabled them to leave hometowns behind and move into a structure where homosexuality was both forbidden and winked at. As Allan described, many gay and lesbian veterans settled in urban areas after the war and contributed to the embryonic stages of the lgbt rights movement.

Coming Out Under Fire also offers an incisive analysis of how the more liberal psychiatric profession, as manifest in the medical corps, lobbied their commanders to substitute the homosexuality-as-mental-illness model for the criminal law model that had been applied in World War I. As the postwar period moved into the 1950's, the mental illness rationale became in turn the basis for anti-gay policies in immigration law and the Civil Service. The Supreme Court upheld the immigration exclusion of "sex deviants" in Boutilier v. Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1967.

Allan's book still stands as the best documentation of that policy, its changing rationales and how its shape shifted to accommodate new social understandings of homosexuality. The book was the basis of a 1995 documentary of the same title that won a Peabody Award for excellence; the following year, Allan received a MacArthur Fellowship. His own papers are now at the Gay and Lesbian Historical Society of San Francisco, an institution he helped start. John D'Emilio and Estelle Friedman published a collection of his essays – My Desire for History – earlier this year.

If you celebrate the end of DADT tomorrow, drink an extra toast in memory of Allan.

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One Response to Remembering Allan Berube as the termination of DADT nears

  1. Jay September 19, 2011 at 7:56 PM

    Thanks for this posting reminding us of the work of a man who left us far too soon.

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