Wednesday, May 7, 2014

From the June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives: Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer

A prominent gay rights activist, Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer is dedicated to protecting LGBT rights. Born in Oslo, Norway, she spent her childhood under Nazi occupation, until her family’s move to the United States in 1951. At the mere age of 19, she joined the US Army Student Nurse Program, and proceeded to serve seven years on active duty and to marry a fellow army officer, upon graduation. Col. Cammermeyer was awarded the Bronze star for her service in Vietnam but was forced to leave the military due to her first pregnancy. Col. Cammermeyer and her husband raised four sons in Maple Valley, Washington; however, the 15-year marriage ended in a divorce in 1980. 

A change of military regulations in 1972 invited Cammermeyer to return to Army Reserves, and later on to transfer to the National Guard, where she dedicated 31 years of her life to medical service. During a security clearance investigation in 1989, Margarethe disclosed that she was a lesbian, during which time sexual orientation in the military was a political game. On June 11, 1992, Colonel Cammermeyer was dismissed with an honorable discharge, becoming the highest-ranking officer to be discharged solely because of her homosexual orientation. "At the Washington National Guard headquarters, Colonel Cammermeyer wept, as did her commanding officer, Maj. Gen. Gregory P. Barlow," due to the emotional intensity of the discharge process. She then vowed to fight the military's ban: "Fear as Basis for Policy." She challenged her discharge under the military’s anti-gay regulation and exclusion and was reinstated on constitutionality grounds. "Judge, Thomas S. Zilly of Federal District Court, ordered Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer back to the job she held in 1992, ruling that the military's policy on homosexuals at that time was based solely on prejudice and was a clear violation of the Constitution's equal-protection clause." The judge concluded "there is no rational basis for the Government's underlying contention that homosexual orientation equals 'desire or propensity to engage' in homosexual conduct." Until Cammermeyer brought the decision to the courts, Congress had shown intolerance for the LGBT community within the military, and later pursued a "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue" policy: which allowed lesbian and gay to serve in the military services, under the condition of keeping their sexual orientation private. Opponents of complete integration at the time, argued for vile reasons such as the national security risks that homosexuals posed, while serving their country. However, a study as early as 1957 had proven no evidence to support such ideology. In 1995, a made-for-television movie adapted from Cammermeyer’s autobiography "Serving in Silence" was aired; the film earned the Peabody award and three Emmy Awards.

After her retirement, Cammermeyer earned the Democratic Party vote for US Congress for Washington’s 2nd Congressional District but lost to the Republican incumbent. For two years, she hosted an Internet radio talk show, which covered relevant political, human rights, legal, health care, gay/lesbian/transgender and other issues, then went on to serve as Chair of the Island County Democrats for six years. Currently she is the Hospital Commissioner for her local public hospital and operates an Adult Family Home providing 24-hour care for aging and infirmed residents. In June 2010 she was selected as a member of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, (DACOWITS). Col. Cammermeyer lives with Diane Divelbes, her partner of 22 years, in Washington. When same-sex marriage was legalized in Washington in 2012, they were the first lesbian couple to get a license in their county. Cammermeyer continues to advocate for gay rights amongst communities within her reach.

In 2012, Col. Cammermeyer donated her papers and memorabilia including one of her uniforms to the June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives. She will be speaking at the “Making Invisible Histories Visible,” the capstone event for the 3-year project.

For more information on the event, visit

For more information on this project, visit For more information on the activities of the Mazer, visit

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