Intrepid Museum Celebrates Pride Month

Honoring LGBTQ+ Service Members and Veterans in the Fight for Equality

Jun 03, 2024 - 8:00am

In honor of Pride Month, the Intrepid Museum celebrates LGBTQ+ service members and remembers the veterans who fought for the right to serve their country openly. World War II veterans were among the first activists to mobilize for gay rights in the 1950s and 60s, before Stonewall.

During World War II, the U.S. government mobilized millions of young men and women. For LGBTQ+ service members, this was often their first contact with other gay or gender non-conforming people. Many made friendships and pursued romantic connections.

The bonds forged during the war laid the groundwork for a new LGBTQ+ rights movement. As LGBTQ+ service members risked their lives for their country, they also risked discovery and discharge. U.S. military leaders believed that gay and lesbian personnel were unfit to serve. Discrimination against gay and lesbian service members during and after the war became a rallying point for early LGBTQ+ organizations. In 1945, four veterans founded the Veterans Benevolent Association. The VBA, which lasted until 1954, was both a social organization and a mutual aid society. LGBTQ+ veterans could seek out legal help or employment from other VBA members.

During the 1950s, the military and the federal government renewed their efforts to identify and remove LGBTQ+ service members and federal employees. This period is known today as the Lavender Scare. Veterans of World War II challenged this harassment. The Mattachine Society, which counted several veterans among its founders, wrote letters and editorials protesting homophobic policy and published articles offering advice to gay men in the military. In 1964, a Mattachine Society activist led a protest outside a military recruitment center in New York City. This is the first known gay rights demonstration in the United States.

Over the decades, many service members and veterans have stood up to demand the right to serve openly and with dignity. To hear about the experiences of LGBTQ+ personnel during and after Intrepid’s period of service, visit Stop #450 “Serving in Silence” on our free digital guide on Bloomberg Connects.

A man and woman read an exhibit panel on Intrepid's flight deck while their child points at the propeller of an aircraft.

If you join our membership program you can visit the museum any time! Plus enjoy many membership perks at a discounted rate.