Born On The 4th Of July: America’s Gay And Lesbian War Heroes

Father John McNeill

McNeill (above, seated), a WWII veteran who served under General Patton, received a Purple Heart after being captured during the Battle of the Bulge and spending six months as a German prisoner of war. But the real fight came some years later, in the late 1950s, when NcNeill became a Roman Catholic priest. Aware he was gay, McNeill tried to stifle his same-sex attractions—an effort that nearly caused him to take his own life.

“I was in graduate school in Europe when I began to act out sexually and compulsively. I found myself at the point of suicide because of this. I was miserable and desperate. One night, I was about to throw myself into the Loire River, when a message came over me— maybe it was Jesus or the Holy Spirit—saying ‘Hang on. This doesn’t make sense to you now, but it will. This is preparation for your ministry.’”

When I returned to the States, I became a teacher and began to study homosexuality. I read an article by a fellow Jesuit who condemned homosexuality as a serious illness and said that homosexuals are guilty of spreading that illness to their partners. I began to write the opposite. I also decided that I was going to find myself a lover.”

McNeill began ministering to gay Catholics and eventually founded Dignity New York, a chapter of the national LGBT  group for members of the faith. After Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, demanded that Father O’Neill be silenced and that his gay ministry be driven from the Church, McNeill was expelled from the Jesuits in 1988. Now 85, he lives in Hollywood, Florida, with Charlie Chiarelli, his devoted partner of 45 years.

He stands as a living reminder that fighting battles doesn’t end when you leave the military.


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  • WillBFair

    This is a great post, Dan. We all need to remember gay contributions, in every field.
    If I could add a couple of points. The Baron turned a pack of farmers into a modern fighting force. He created the Continental Army.
    And the bayonett tactic that he taught them actually won the decisive battle at Yorktown.

  • Hello

    Thank you for this Queerty.

    It made me very sad and reminded me of the cruelty and hatred these heroes endured even after putting their lives on the line for freedom they were denied. Such a terrible wrong and as far as know an apology and recompense for these brave people hasn’t materialized. If it has I can’t find an article.

    Civil rights aside, I feel the way they were treated is so unjust and evil it’s incredible that it ever occurred. Freedom in America is an ideal more discussed than practiced and seems only to apply to some. The demise of DADT restored my faith in a country that eventually does the right thing.

    These days I feel proud of some of our achievements in terms of LGBT rights and the recent healthcare victory. What makes me sad is that some Republicans would even entertain the idea of reinstating DADT. Those people clearly have no soul.

  • Michael Bedwell

    Thank you for this.

    I would add a couple of things:

    1. In 1978, 17 years before “Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story”
    appeared, “the issue of gays in the military reached into mainstream American homes like never before”—as well as the first made-for-TV movie about a living gay person—through an NBC broadcast: “Sergeant Matlovich vs. the U.S. Air Force.”

    2. Dan Choi should always be included in any such list both for his actual service in a war zone, resulting in his being on disability to his lungs due to exposure to asbestos, and for the fact that he kept the issue of repeal of DADT alive when there were signs it might end up in the same ditch that ENDA did.

    Also, readers may learn about several other gay and lesbian veterans in our history at

    Thank you.

  • Brandt Hardin

    On Independence Day we should celebrate our Constitutional Rights and Freedoms which so many men and women have fought for- including Freedom of Speech, Religion, Assembly and Press. The art of film has been one of the most powerful vessels for conveying the importance of these rights. Check out the Top 10 Movies of All Time about FREEDOM on a special 4th of July post today at to see some impassioned portrayals of our basic rights.

  • jack

    so many more ought to have been on this list i don’t know where to begin, but it is impossible to make this list and leave off t/sgt leonard matlovich.


  • Aquarelle

    Seriously, this is the best you could come up with? There are so many better looking men in the army. Some of these guys are old and fat, WTF Queerty???

  • Mike

    Typical queerty biphobia and bisexual erasure and transphobia/trans erasure: it’s all about gays and lesbians only!

  • Colin

    @Mike: Queerty is about the *gay* agenda. It says so plainly. Therefore it would make sense that it would feature mainly gays and lesbians as that is the audience it caters to.

  • rustyj

    Like any legislative change, just because DADT is dead does not mean the fight is over. The repeal was only a point in history but living this fight every day in the military is not some bed of roses which every one seems to have marvelously forgotten – and that is not unexpected. I still have not come out for fear of career ruin.

    It’s a nice article but a little thin on current servicemembers.

  • Michael Bedwell


    So you’ve chosen to ruin your life instead. Piy that.

  • Brandon

    Actually Colin this is an LGBT news site and it’s not only about gays and lesbians.

  • KJ

    Thanks, Queerty! Great post, and of course fellow readers, not complete, but that just means our job is not done.

    Col. Cammermeyer was with our band of Episcopalians in last month’s Seattle Pride parade. I was glad to have had the opportunity to thank her for being way ahead of the curve, but it is very easy to see that she is a “You do what needs to be done” type of person.

  • amo

    @Colin: The article says “we’re taking a moment to honor LGBT service members”.

  • I won't grow up

    The true meaning of the word hero, all of them.

  • Krass

    I am actively serving in the US Infantry. I’ve been to the sandbox. I’ve been shot at, blown up and took some shrapnel to my leg. I am also gay. Although I am out to my friends and family back home, coming out in the Infantry is a horrid idea. I’ve seen what happens to those who they merely suspect of being gay. Its great that these people were out or whatever, but its not the best idea in every situation.

  • Paul

    @Aquarelle: AYFKM??? Show some fucking respect you fuck

Comments are closed.