In the early 1980s historian Allan Bérubé set out to document the experiences of gays and lesbians who had served in the military during World War II. His Lambda Literary Award-winning book, Coming Out Under Fire, explores how military service brought many pre-Stonewall gays and lesbians together for the first time, sparking the beginnings of a social and political movement.
While conducting interviews with gay and lesbian veterans of the era, Bérubé uncovered the stories of three pioneering gay and lesbian publications; newsletters printed and distributed so secretly that their existence had been lost to history.
In the keynote address at the National Gay and Lesbian Press Association convention in San Francisco in March 1983, Bérubé recounted the remarkable stories of these publications and the courageous men and women who took enormous risks to publish them.
Bérubé’s speech, which I recorded for Pacifica Radio, has been preserved by the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California.
In the address, Bérubé discusses The Myrtle Beach Bitch, published by several active duty soldiers during World War II; Vice Versa, published by Lisa Ben in Los Angeles in 1947 and 1948; and Eclipse, published in San Francisco in the mid-1950s by two lesbian lovers who had been dishonorably discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation.
At a time when signs of social progress were difficult to discern, Lisa Ben (a pseudonym for Edythe Eyde) looked ahead to our time with optimism.
“I venture to predict,” she wrote in Vice Versa, “that there will be a time in the future when gay folk will be accepted as part of regular society. Perhaps even Vice Versa might be the forerunner of better magazines dedicated to the third sex, which at some future time might take their rightful place on the newsstands beside other publications to be available, openly and without restriction, to those who wish to read them.”
Ben died in December 2015 at 94. Copies of Vice Versa can be read online at Queer Music Heritage. Bérubé, who received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1996, died in 2007 at 61.