WWII history project seeks LGBT seniors
by Matthew S. Bajko
This time, Uncle Sam really does want LGBT people, specifically those who lived through World War II.
A project connected to the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Homefront National Historic Park in Richmond, California is seeking LGBT people to interview about their home front experiences during the war.
The Regional Oral History Office at the Bancroft Library on the UC Berkeley campus is working in collaboration with the City of Richmond and the National Park Service on interviewing residents of the Bay Area about their wartime experiences between the years of 1941-1945.
The park service intends to use the interviews for a planned visitor center to be built this fall at the East Bay park. The project has been under way for the past three years, and 100 people have already shared their stories about working in the various defense industries and living through that time period.
But, to date, none have been LGBT. One transgender individual from the New York region has agreed to share his story but has yet to be interviewed.
"We don't have out narrators in our collection so far," said David Dunham, the project's manager who is also the Regional Oral History Office's web director and video editor. "We realized that was a gap."
Dunham is still working out the logistics of interviewing the New York resident, who was a woman and identified as lesbian during the war but has since transitioned to being a man and now works on a farm somewhere in the Empire State.
Due to the shortage of male workers during the war years, as men were shipped to the various fronts overseas, women found themselves employed in jobs they traditionally had been shunned from and challenging stereotypical gender roles. Cities like San Francisco, which served as major military bases and embarkation points for servicemen, also became home to burgeoning underground scenes for homosexuals.
Some of the key questions the project would like to ask LGBT people who lived through that time include what, if any, new ideas about sexuality took root, why, and where did they emerge?
Other topics explored during the interviews, as explained on the project's website, include "how and why people from different backgrounds came to the Bay Area, what they did when they arrived, and what they learned from the fluidity and flux of wartime life that affected decisions they made after the war ended."
With most people in that age group now in their 80s or 90s, Dunham said there is some urgency behind trying to speak with people before the WWII generation dies out. And finding LGBT people to interview presents unique challenges, as most people from that era were not out and may remain closeted.
Nonetheless, Dunham said hearing from LGBT voices is needed in order to shed a full light on that period of American history.
"It is a significant story to tell for a variety of reasons. Because so many men were away, women were coming together in a variety of ways. They were working in traditional male roles and wearing male clothes," said Dunham. "In terms of creating communities and coming together in [LGBT-specific] meeting places, it was a fertile time for that."
Anyone interested in being interviewed should contact Dunham at (925) 937-2290 or e-mail mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the oral history project, visit http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/ROHO/projects/rosie/.