Wisconsin Magazine of History

We’ve Been Here All Along: Wisconsin's Early Gay History

Despite their patriotism, many gay Americans in the service remember the years of World War II and the following McCarthy era as particularly dangerous for homosexuals. Ted Pierce, the cultivated African American gay man who lived most of his life on Madison’s Williamson Street, used to compare the period to “the Terror” that gripped France during the waning days of the French Revolution. In an oral history he recorded decades later, Pierce recalled: “There was a point in that period where you didn’t have to have any evidence that you could definitely say anybody was gay. All you had to do was say you felt they were gay to the police, and the police would investigate you extensively right down to the point of asking if you had wet dreams who was it you were seeing in your wet dream.”1

Pierce’s boyfriend during the war, originally from St. Louis, worked at the military base at Truax Field. Within the military, there was a concern about the possible blackmail of gay folks as security risks regarding sensitive war equipment. Pierce remembered the army arresting people every

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