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.

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