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Straight State Review
Canaday, Margot, “Building a Straight State: Sexuality and Social Citizenship under the 1944 G.I. Bill”, The Journal of American History. 90 (3): 935-957.
Margaret Canaday, in her article “Building a Straight State: Sexuality and Social Citizenship under the 1944 G.I. Bill”, brings to attention an issue that many Americans probably never bother to think about; what it was like to be gay during the World War Two era in America. Canaday tells the story of the 1944 Government Issue (G.I.) Bill and how it was used by the Veterans Administration to deny homosexual war veterans the rights that they would have otherwise been entitled.
Although veterans had been offered benefits after previous wars, the scope of G.I. support was unprecedented. Many World War Two veterans were counting on the G.I. bill to pay for their college, buy a house, or start a business. (937) This being the case, Congress, it seems, wanted to make these benefits available to as many veterans as possible and they worded the bill accordingly. Congress stated that the benefits would be available to all veterans who received a discharge “under conditions other than dishonorable.” (940)
Even though congress appeared to make its intentions clear in the wording, the Veterans Administration (VA) seemed to have something else in mind. The VA declared that men with Blue discharges, so named because of the color of the paper on which it was issued, or also known as an undesirable discharges, would be reviewed on a case by case basis. (941) What makes the VA’s declaration relate to Homosexuals is the fact that the armed forces had adopted a policy of using Blue discharges as apposed to court martial in order to remove homosexuals from the armed forces. This was apparently better for the armed forces because Blue discharges did not require lengthy trials. (942) According to Canaday, though, the VA adopted a policy of automatically denying any man who was discharged for homosexual acts or tendencies his benefits granted to him by the G.I. Bill. So although Congress had promised benefits to all those that did not receive a dishonorable discharge, many homosexuals were still denied their benefits while drug addicts and other less disserving veterans were still able to collect. (942)
What can truly make this article interesting to today’s reader is the major contrast between today’s society and the society of the 1940s that this article presents. Today, for example, the American military has adopted a policy in which one should not ask about sexuality and one should not tell about sexuality. This with regards to homosexuality in order to stop military discrimination against homosexuals. Furthermore, if the VA were to deny some one benefit simply because he was a homosexual today, the cry of discrimination would undoubtedly be heard echoing of the white washed monuments of Washington, D.C.
Canaday's article seems to point out that perhaps the late forties and the fifties were not the golden age that many older Americans try to claim that they were. In fact, that time period was filled with discrimination and many other social hardships that American society is only just now trying to solve. Instead of looking back to a time of much discrimination and social angst, perhaps America can look to the future to find her golden age.
© All words and music written and owned by Shawn Nelsen.