Cpls. Fannie Mae Clackum and Grace Garner
Though hardly the first people booted from the military for being gay, Clackum and Garner, U.S. Air Force reservists in the late 1940s and early 1950s, were the first to successfully challenge their discharge.
When the two women were suspected of being lesbians, the Office of Special Investigations essentially entrapped the pair, giving the Air Force cause to issue dishonorable discharges to both in 1952. But they refused to accept the discharges and demanded their case be brought to a courtmartial. Eight years later, the pair won their suit: the courts vacated the discharge and awarded them back pay.
Recounting the Air Force’s account of its investigation, the court opinion’s read in part:
“One’s reaction to the foregoing narrative is ‘What’s going on here?’”
“…The so-called ‘hearing’ before the Air Force Discharge Board was not a hearing at all, in the usual sense of that word. It was a meaningless formality, to comply with the regulations. The ‘evidence’ upon which the case was going to be decided, and obviously was decided, was not present at the hearing, unless the undisclosed dossier which contained it was in the drawer of the table at which the Board sat. The appellant and her counsel were futilely tilting at shadows. However vulnerable the secret evidence may have been, there was no possible way to attack it.”
While the ruling turned on the fact that there wasn’t enough evidence to show the women were lesbians—rather than that there was nothing wrong with it if they were—it was the first time the military was brought to task for its arbitrary and clandestine attacks on gay service members.