Serving with Pride: LGBTQ+ Veterans’ Oral History Workshop

This is a guest post by Meg Metcalf, women’s, gender and LGBTQ+ studies librarian in the Main Reading Room.

Owen Rogers of the Veterans History Project (left) and Meg Metcalf, the author of this post, at ”Pride in the Library,” a three-day exhibit held in June to highlight the Library’s extensive LGBTQ+ collections.

Why are oral histories important to collect? What unique perspectives might we gain from oral histories that other formats don’t offer? What does “empowering the narrator” really look like? What ethical concerns and obligations do we face as interviewers? What resources are available to assist with the process of collecting and preserving these important narratives?

These were just a few of the questions on the table at “Serving with Pride: LGBTQ+ Veterans’ Oral History Workshop,” held on June 9 and co-sponsored by the Veterans History Project (VHP), LC-GLOBE and the Humanities and Social Sciences Division. I organized the workshop with Owen Rogers, a liaison specialist with the Veterans History Project (VHP), who provided useful advice and demonstrated hands-on knowledge regarding the various phases of conducting and preserving oral histories.

To emphasize the impact that these unique resources can have, several oral history examples were featured. Here are just a few of the incredible and moving stories of LGBTQ+ veterans that have been preserved by the Veterans History Project and the Library of Congress.

Frank Kameny

“I was going to do . . . what I could to see to it that gay people here in Washington got a square deal.”

Oral History Interview, January 2003

The Library of Congress is home to the Frank Kameny Papers. Kameny was a prominent gay rights activist and Army veteran of World War II. In addition to his personal papers, the Library also has a number of publications in which Kameny or his work is mentioned, including “The Mattachine Review” and “The Homosexual Citizen.”

At 1:55 in his oral history interview, Frank Kameny describes being asked about his sexuality at the time of his enlistment.

Miriam Ben-Shalom

“Nobody joins the military for a date.”

Oral History Interview, November 2004

A veteran of the Cold War, Miriam Ben-Shalom served as a drill sergeant. In her audio interview, conducted in 2004 before the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, she asks, “I want to know: When do I get to be an American—whole and complete, same as anybody else?”

 

JaeLee Waldschmidt

“If I could have served in the service as a trans woman, I probably would have done 20 years.”

Oral History Interview, February 2015

JaeLee Waldschmidt enlisted in the Navy in 2003. She left the service of her own accord in 2012, and her interview discusses the challenges transgender individuals in the military face. In her oral history interview, JaeLee says to those who might be struggling with their gender identity: there’s hope.

Interested in Learning More?

Gallery Talk: Immigrant Voices of the Veterans History Project

This is a guest post by Owen Rogers, liaison specialist for the Veterans History Project. Library of Congress specialists often give presentations about ongoing Library exhibitions. This post relates to a presentation Rogers prepared for the exhibition “Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I.” My great-grandfather, Stephen Basford Young, served in […]

Recognizing the Service of Asian-Pacific-American Veterans

The following is a republication of a post by Andrew Huber, liaison specialist for the Veterans History Project. It was first published on the Library’s “Folklife Today” blog. Throughout the month of May, we celebrate Asian-American and Pacific-Islander heritage and remember the contributions made by people of Asian-Pacific descent. Those contributions are numerous, from Duke […]

Story of the Century: My Afternoon with a Jewish American World War II Veteran

The following is a guest post by Owen Rogers, liaison specialist for the Veterans History Project. An extended version of the post appeared on the Library’s “Folklife Today” blog. When Burton “Burt” Schuman greeted me at the door with a handshake and an offer of a home tour, he shared his framed Bronze Star Medal and […]

World War I: Footlocker’s Contents Reveal Soldier’s Story

This is a guest post by Naomi Coquillon, an education specialist in the Interpretive Programs Office. When I began to develop educational programs for the Library’s new exhibition, Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I, I knew I wanted to give visitors the opportunity to touch objects from the period, to […]

World War I: Norvel Preston Clotfelter

(The following is a guest post by Rachel Telford, archivist with the Veterans History Project.) In 1917, Norvel Preston Clotfelter’s life was upended when he was drafted into the United States Army. He postponed his wedding, left his job as a school teacher in Mazie, Okla., and began his service at Camp Travis, Texas; he […]

Library in the News: December 2016 Edition

Happy New Year! Let’s look back on some of the Library’s headlines in December. Topping the news was the announcement of the new selections to the National Film Registry. Outlets really picked up on the heavy 80s influence of the list. “It’s loaded with millennials,” said Christie D’Zurilla of The Los Angeles Times. “Ten of […]

Library in the News: November 2016 Edition

Smokey Robinson made headlines as the Library celebrated his work and career during the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song celebration concert. “Amid multiple standing ovations from an audience filled with political dignitaries at DAR Constitution Hall, the Motown star reflected on his humble Detroit roots as he accepted the prestigious Gershwin Prize for Popular Song,” […]

Pic of the Week: A&E Makes Donation to VHP

Staff from A&E Networks’ HISTORY stopped by the Library this week to donate interviews from some of our nation’s oldest World War II veterans — specifically those who witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor. On the eve of the attack’s anniversary, these stories offer meaningful testimony to the American entry into World War II. These 25 […]