Saturday, April 17, 2010

One Ohio man's 'Gay in the Military' story

Stanley Mason, who was openly and proudly gay back when the majority of his peers stashed their sexual orientation in closets, served as an Army stenographer during the Korean War.

Mason had told friends that he had met a large number of gays in uniform after he was drafted into military service in the early 1950s.

He said he found that fact surprising. He was even more amazed that heterosexual servicemen treated him and other gay comrades with respect.

Mason believed the reason for the lack of testosterone-filled hubris was simple. During wartime, soldiers were more preoccupied with staying alive than worrying about their fellows’ sexual preferences.

I never met Mason, who resided in Lakewood, Ohio, before he died Nov. 4, 2007, at age 76. I learned about his military experience and other aspects of his life while writing “A Life Story” obituary feature about him for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio, which was published Dec. 3, 2007.

I gleaned facts, anecdotes and comments by interviewing his friends and reviewing an oral history he had recorded for the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Collection at the Western Reserve Historical Society.

Did Selective Service ask Mason about his sexual orientation? Did Mason tell? I don’t have the answer to those questions.

In reality, such questions and answers had no effect on his soldiering experience. He loved the Army. It allowed him to travel away from the small village of Clinton, Ohio, where he grew up, and to gain self-confidence.

Mason later became a promoter of his urban neighborhood in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and its LGBT community. He also became a political activist with the Log Cabin Republicans.

You have to wonder. What would Mason say about the “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” debate?

This essay was written by Alana Baranick, a freelance writer from Brooklyn, Ohio, and director of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers, who swears that she learned most of what she knows by writing obituaries.

This was originally posted on on Feb. 14, 2010.

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