US Armed Services and Purple Discharges for Homosexuals
World War II was the first war in which the Armed Services established rules against allowing homosexuals to serve. However, the kinds of questions psychiatrists devised to detect homosexuals were pretty silly. They would ask a male inductee things like, “Do you like girls?” and this man could answer quite honestly “yes,” because he didn’t know what the shrink was really getting at. One woman was asked, “Why haven’t you slept with a man?” She answered, “Because I was brought up to believe that girls didn’t do that until they were married.” That was the prevailing belief of the forties so the young woman wasn’t saying anything unusual. As a result, hundreds of homosexuals, male and female, courageously served in World War II. In some units their sexual orientation was quite open without anyone bothering about it. However, toward the end of the war things started to change. As one of the male characters in my novel says, “You didn’t have to do anything homosexual to get thrown out for being homosexual. You didn’t have to do something like sodomy for them to go after you. That way they could go after the women too. Showing any “signs” of homosexuality was enough for them to harass you.”
If someone saw one of those “signs” the soldier was arrested and taken to a hospital, the ward for the mentally ill. (Sometimes soldiers were locked up in makeshift holding cells–Queer Stockades–until they were sent back to the States.) In the hospital they were put under observation. During this time period soldiers were pumped to name the names of other homosexuals. When they were finally released they were given cheap clothing from a discount store and the blue discharge.
This blue discharge announced to the world that the army considered you undesirable. These discharges were given without benefit of any kind of hearing or trial. It wasn’t exactly a dishonorable discharge. You hadn’t done anything to warrant that, but it meant that you could not qualify for any of the benefits that went with the best GI Bill the country had ever passed. While other veterans were remaking their lives with free college educations, VA home mortgages and other government loans, those with blue discharges had trouble even getting a job. (Berube, 1990)
Reference: Berube, A, (1990). Coming out under fire: The history of gay mean and women in World War II, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.