Two Psychiatrists Advocate For Gays In the Military — In 1945

Jim Burroway

June 1st, 2010

In any society where males are herded together in closely-knit, interdependent groups, the problem of homosexuality invariably manifests itself. Such has been the case in the military service, to the extent that a greater of homosexuals have come under the scrutiny of psychiatrists than ordinarily are observed in civilian life. We have had the opportunity to study a large group of homosexuals, and our experiences have led us to believe that the subject of homosexuality is not as nebulous as one might gather from the literature. It became increasingly apparent to us that it has been unnecessarily distorted and confused by a conglomeration of viewpoints, and that clarification of the homosexual personality has been long in order.

That was the opening paragraph to a study published in the March 1945 edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry. Titled “The Homosexual as a Personality Type,” the article was written by Lt. Herbert Greenspan and Commander John D. Campbell of the U.S. Navy Reserves, two psychiatrists tasked with providing psychiatric counseling and evaluations for Navy personnel who had fallen under the suspicion of being “unfit for military service.” Many of those referred to the authors were suffering from a variety of legitimate mental and emotional disorders, but some were referred because they were suspected of being gay.

The psychiatric profession in 1945 had no official position on whether homosexuality was a mental disorder.  The first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,which would define what was and was not a mental illness, wouldn’t come out until 1952. When it did, homosexuality made the list and stayed there for another twenty years.

But back in 1945 the debate was still underway. But unlike later debates, that one wasn’t between whether gays were normal or ill. The choice then was between being mentally ill or a criminal delinquent (or both; diminished capacity didn’t always garner much sympathy for gay people in some quarters). While the two opposing camps were arguing it out in the professional literature, those arguing for the mental illness model were clearly gaining ground. And they were easy to identify; they tended to describe gay people using the relatively new word “homosexual,” or perhaps, occasionally, the not yet anacronistic “invert.” 

But you were also just as likely to enounter journals describing gay people as delinquents, sexual deviants and perverts. Seeing these terms today is jarring, especially when you read them being used with the same professional detachment that was used in describing someone as an asthmatic, autistic, hysteric or schizophrenic — four more conditions which, like homosexuality, were often blamed on poor parenting or bad character. In that light, the emerging opinion that homosexuality was a neurosis was actually the more enlightened opinion.

And this is what makes Greenspan and Campbell’s 1945 article particularly interesting. They went beyond the “enlightened” position and argued that homosexuals were actually quite normal. They called homosexuality “a congenital anomaly rather than a disease,” although they based that opinion on some decidedly unscientific observations:

Additional substantiation for the biological theory of homosexuality is found in the predominance of female characteristics in these individuals. Much has been said both pro and con as to the significance of these and disagreement is still pronounced. However, it has been our experience that the majority of inverts display evidences of physical as well as psychic traits of effeminacy — an effeminate manner, appearance, temperament and interests. Delicacy of speech and movement, high-pitched voices, esthetic interests, feminine body configuration and “white-collar” occupations were particularly noticeable.

Greenspan and Campbell’s reasons for supporting a biological basis isn’t compelling by today’s standards.  But their methods, such as they were, were standard practices at the time. Casual observances were routinely the basis for a whole range of supposedly scientific theories throughout the “soft” sciences. Just a few years later, Alfred Kinsey’s would try to fix that by introducing a measure of mathematical precision to the study of human sexuality. But even that pioneering effort was abysmally primitive and seriously flawed by today’s standards. Yet, for another thirty years, as unreliable as those statistics were, they were the best we had. Given that context, Greenspan and Campbell can be forgiven of their lack of scientific rigor. It’s just the way things were back then.

But what they lacked in statistical sophistication, they made up for with some pretty compelling logic. Blaming “bad environment” for criminal behavior was an emerging theme in psychiatry, and it was in this sense that Greenspan and Campbell chose to address the environmental issues which supposedly would have driven these men to “social delinquency”:

Further contradiction of the environment theory can be found in the obvious fact that there is a much stronger environmental force acting on the individual to become heterosexual, than homosexual. Most of our patients originated from small communities where there was every influence and reason to conform with accepted sexual practices. Yet, the direction of their original sex impulse persisted in spite of an environment which not only fostered, but made it mandatory that they comply with heterosexual demands. By the same token as acquired homosexuality, why did not heterosexuality become acquired? It would appear that there is a force at work in the homosexual, physiological in nature, which is more powerful than the family customs, laws and social expectations of his environment. Apparently, these so-called contrary sexuals cannot acquire heterosexuality, even under favorable circumstances, as some would have us believe that homosexuality can be acquired under conditions far less conducive.

This passage shows that Greenspan and Campbell were keenly aware of the intense pressures their gay subjects struggled with. But despite those pressures, their charges were still unable to conform to the dictates of the day. Clearly they were not mere criminals.

But were they mentally ill? Greenspan and Campbell looked again at their charges and said no. The men they saw were fully functioning, competent, conscientious, empathetic, nondelusional, nonpsychotic — in short, they suffered none of the conditions that people with mental illnesses experienced. Further, the authors were impressed by their gay charges’ adaptability to their hostile environments, and they admired their clients’ many talents — the very same Nöel Coward-like characteristics which likely brought them to their superiors’ attention in the first place:

The homosexual personality is usually intelligent, and frequently above the average. His mental processes do not differ in many respects from those of the normal individual… Evidences of his homosexual constitution are found in his hobbies, artistic interests, pseudosophistry, feeling of intellectual superiority and pursuit of a career. Esthetic interests in art, music, literature, the theater, etc., are particularly common. Dealing in the abstract entices the homosexual mentality, probably more on an emotional than an intellectual basis, and represents a sublimation of his homosexual tendencies. Many dabble in poetry, art, sculpture and drama; a delicate appreciation of colors, fabrics and the arts usually resolves in such occupations as beautician, music teacher, actor, bookkeeper, etc. In the military service we find homosexuals in the capacities of hospital corpsmen, yeomen and chaplain’s assistants. In our experience it was unusual for a homosexual not to like music in one form or another.

Consequently, Greenspan and Campbell found huge differences between these well-functioning gay men and those who suffered from genuine mental illnesses:

The psychopath is erratic, impulsive, restless, unreliable and devoid of conscience. He suffers with a poverty of emotion which makes it impossible for him to experience any qualms about his misdeeds or others’ misfortunes. The homosexual is the exact antithesis of all this, for we find him conscientious, reliable, well-integrated and abounding in emotional feeling and sincerity. The homosexuals observed in the service have been key men in responsible positions whose loss was acutely felt in their respective departments.

…Both the psychiatric and social status of the invert is becoming increasingly more clear with the advancement of clinical psychiatry, and it is encouraging to note that society is being weaned away from the fallacy that homosexualism is a crime. We are gradually coming to the realization that the homosexual suffers from a regrettable sexual anomaly, but otherwise is a normal, productive individual, who is neither a burden nor a detriment to society.

Sixty-five years later, LGBT servicemembers are still being kicked out of the military, and their losses are still being acutely felt. Some things haven’t changed. Not yet, anyway.

But it soon will, because sixty-five years later, we did pass another milestone that Greenspan and Campbell predicted. It was just this year, for the first time in history, that a clear majority of Americans finally determined that LGBT people are normal, productive people who are neither a burden nor a detriment to society.

Progress has been frustratingly slow, hasn’t it? Greenspan and Campbell were a whole lifetime ahead of everyone else. It’s nice to see the rest of the world finally start to catch up.

Richard Rush

June 1st, 2010

That’s a great find, Jim.

This jumped out at me (emphasis is mine):

The psychopath is erratic, impulsive, restless, unreliable and devoid of conscience. He suffers with a poverty of emotion which makes it impossible for him to experience any qualms about his misdeeds or others’ misfortunes. The homosexual is the exact antithesis of all this, for we find him conscientious, reliable, well-integrated and abounding in emotional feeling and sincerity. The homosexuals observed in the service have been key men in responsible positions whose loss was acutely felt in their respective departments.

I think some of those characteristics of psychopaths are also common among our fundamentalist Christian persecutors. As they obsessively seek to make our lives as miserable as possible, they seem to have no consciences at all, or whatever they might have had has been wrung out of them via religious indoctrination. I wonder if the day will come when psychiatry will characterize them as mentally ill. We already know they are deeply delusional, and on that basis alone, shouldn’t deep delusion in the face of accessible overwhelming contradictory evidence be considered a mental illness? Or not?

Lynn David

June 2nd, 2010


And yet in all this time there have been only 9 citations according to Google Scholar and two others according to JAMA for 11 total. Campbell later cited it in an article he wrote concerning mobilization for another war. In part his abstract said:

In case of another world conflict, there are several reasons to feel that the manpower problem will be even more formidable than before: The fighting forces will be spread wider; the war will probably last longer, and the fact that the population of the United States is only 150,000,000 in comparison with Russia’s 200,000,000, not counting her satellite nations. It is axiomatic, therefore, that we must utilize every individual to his fullest capacity, whether he is a cotton picker, taxi driver, scientist, aviator or soldier.

So I assume he was still arguing for gays to be inducted in the military. Although he might have suggested our use in noncombat roles.

Larry Esser

June 2nd, 2010

Richard Rush rightly sets out the behavior of the fundamentalists. For some their attitudes may indeed be born of mental illness, with acute sexual paranoia being at the top of the list. This is hard to say, it does seem that some people truly believe that they are on a mission from “God.” I have been stunned to see religious folks lie, cheat, dissemble, mislead, and even seek to provoke a fistfight, all in the name of “God.” They feel they have a right to behave any way that will lead to them fulfilling this “divine” mission. This is very powerful and, mental illness or not, very frightening because it is emotional not rational.
As to wartime, my spouse (we are legally married) was in the US Army Eighth Air Force as a radio operator in B-17 bombers in WWII. He was twice shot down and was given an Air Medal for his service. From all I’ve been able to gather from every source, his conduct and fulfillment of duty were exemplary. So the above reports from 1945 are no surprise except as to the exceptional objectivity of the two psychologists given the prevailing attitudes towards gay men at that time.


June 2nd, 2010

One of the most enlightening articles I have read in a long time. If DADT is repealed soon, I don’t think that it will be much of a campaign issue in 2012.

Maurice Lacunza

June 2nd, 2010


“Apparently, these so-called contrary sexuals…

…cannot acquire heterosexuality even under favorable circumstances, as some would have us believe that homosexuality can be acquired under conditions far less conducive.” (he means Army)

For those who think we choose gayness: I have challenged straights to describe the day he CHOSE to become heterosexual.

For those who think you can acquire it in the Army: I can’t become heterosexual by sleeping with women. You can’t become gay by having gay sex.

For everybody: repression leads to acting out. That above article quote said it all.

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