Serving in Silence Transcript

Narrator: Gay and bisexual sailors were an open secret on Navy ships, including Intrepid and Growler.

Agustin Ramos: We did have gay men, but not openly.

David Bishop: Nobody would admit it, but we did. But it was very well hidden in those days.

Narrator: Gay and lesbian service members had to keep their identities hidden. For most of the 20th century, being gay was grounds for discharge. Because of the need for secrecy, few gay veterans have come forward to tell their stories, even today. One veteran who broke his silence was Denny Meyer.

Denny Meyer: I led an island existence. A lone wolf. We called it serving in silence in those days, that was the phrase.

Narrator: Meyer served on USS Forrestal, another aircraft carrier that cruised the Mediterranean at the same time as Intrepid. Keeping his sexuality a secret took a toll on Meyer.

Meyer: Really, the assumption was there ain’t no queers here. Queers aren’t in the military. There were, as I say, witch hunts, but other than that, it just wasn’t expected, which is why you heard homophobic comments all the time. And part of serving in silence was just swallowing all that and laughing along with everybody else.

Narrator: Meyer was able to keep his sexuality hidden from the military for years, but not all veterans were so lucky. During and after Intrepid’s service period, tens of thousands of gay men and women were discharged from the military.

Veterans were among the earliest activists in the emerging gay rights movement. They organized against the ban on gay service members and the life-altering consequences of a bad discharge.

Despite protests and legal challenges, the military kept its ban on gay and lesbian service members in place for decades.

Meyer, like many before him, became an activist too, fighting to end discrimination against LGBTQ+ soldiers and sailors.

The ban on gay and lesbian service members ended in 2011 with the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

After serving so long in silence, gay and lesbian veterans deserve to be heard. Intrepid Museum takes seriously its responsibility to collect and preserve their stories for the historical record and share them with the public.