Randall L. Sell with Jonathan Ned Katz: Allen Bernstein Biography (1913-2008)

Bernstein PHOTO 1929,16.png

Allen Bernstein, Tufts, age 16, 1929

An OutHistory Original Publication

Last edit: December 15, 2019

Allen Irvin Bernstein (June 19, 1913-September 8, 2008) wrote some of the earliest defenses of homosexuality in English. His earliest known writing on homosexuality, provokingly titled “A Pervert Talks Back,” dates to 1938.

In 1940 Bernstein voluntarily joined the U.S. Army. Three and a half years later, after merely expressing verbal interest in a sailor, Bernstein was reported to Army officials. He admitted he was homosexual, and received a less-than-honorable, section 8 “blue discharge.”

Over the next 37 years he made numerous appeals to the military for an honorable discharge, and finally the Army reversed itself and, in 1981, awarded him an honorable discharge. His first appeal, immediately after his discharge, was accompanied by an essay that is the earliest-known defense of homosexuals in the United States military. (See “My Blue Sec.8 Discharge (1944)” below.)

Fifty-five years later, in 1993, in a letter to a Maine newspaper, signed with his name, Bernstein criticized the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, comparing this discrimination to that against African Americans and women. 

Bernstein’s resistant essays demonstrate his commitment to the belief, spelled out in his credo, written at age 67, in 1981: “It is my religious duty to keep hitting my head against stone walls to push them down, to keep fighting city hall. There is no inevitability about the forces-of-good or the forces-of-evil winning.”

Early Life (1913-1940)
Allen (sometimes spelled Alan) Irvin Bernstein was born on June 19, 1913 in Nashua, New Hampshire to Rose Simon and Joseph Bernstein. The 1920 Census records Bernstein and his only sibling, an older brother, Haskell (aka Brick), as living with their parents on Lafayette Street in Salem Massachusetts, the city in which he spent most of his childhood. By the 1930 Census, the brothers had lost both parents (mother in 1928 and father in 1929) and were listed as residing with cousins on Western Avenue in Albany New York. But the brothers, as college students, were probably living most of the time elsewhere (Allen at both Tufts University and Union College in 1930). Their expenses then were at least partially funded by a life insurance policy left them by their father.

Bernstein’s writing on homosexuality was most likely influenced by people he met face-to-face early in life, or by works he read. Evidence does not yet conclusively show who or what those influences were, but there are several possibilities.

The Joy Street Gang
Bernstein wrote poetry about cruising for men in Boston Common, which is adjacent to Beacon Hill, which is dissected by Joy Street. In his essay “MILLIONS OF QUEERS” Bernstein reports:  “Boston’s fake Bohemia of the latter 1920’s, the Joy Street gang, was definitely queer.” Writing in 1940, Bernstein stresses: “There was such a crowd of fellows. . . . Some members, still alive and virile, object strenuously to implications that ‘the Hill [Beacon Hill], 1925-30’ is worthy of historical study a decade later.”

In 1929 Bernstein would have been 16 years old, and could have first made personal acquaintance with this “gang” while attending Tufts University for a year (1929-1930), just outside of Boston. That queer “gang” almost certainly included Prescott Townsend who resided at 36 Joy Street from the early 1920s through the early 1940s. Arrested in 1943 for committing an “unnatural and lascivious act” and imprisoned, Townsend later emerged as a pioneering organizer of a Boston chapter of the Mattachine Society and the Boston Demophile Society.

Tufts and Union College
After Bernstein attended Tufts, where he took Introductory French, he finished his undergraduate education at Union College (1930-33).[1]  He graduated from Union with a degree in history, and was a member of the French Club. He knew some French and liked to practice it when visiting French Canada later in life. In “MILLIONS OF QUEERS” Bernstein often references Andre Gide's defense of homosexuality, Corydon (specifically the French, 1929 printing). In “MILLIONS” Bernstein provides English translations from Corydon – translations he, perhaps had made. Gide’s Corydon was not published in English until 1950. In Bernstein’s 1938 essay, “They Didn’t Mean Us,” he says: “Corydon, a homoe’s defense, was for a time my bible.”[2] Bernstein may have first came across Corydon at Tufts or Union College.

University of Chicago
Bernstein may also have come across Corydon while a student at the University of Chicago (1933-34) where he received a Masters degree in history.[3] The University of Chicago’s history department was then within the school’s Social Science Division. And that University’s social scientists were at that time undertaking pioneering, detailed research on homosexuality, led by professors Robert E. Park and Ernest W. Burgess. No evidence links Bernstein to those professors or that research, but it’s possible that Bernstein heard about or knew students who were interviewing, observing, and writing reports on their fieldwork with homosexuals.

It is not unreasonable to assume that while at the University Chicago Bernstein experienced the “pansy craze.” The craze in Chicago was centered around Towertown, a neighborhood close to the Chicago Water Tower, and a neighborhood in which Bernstein writes about in "Millions of Queers." He has the ghettoization of homomosexuals in mind when he writes of “Chicago’s forced Greenwich Village around the Water Tower.” 

Searching for Employment
After graduating from the University of Chicago in 1934, Bernstein moved around the North East, struggling to find employment.

In 1936, he built a  house in the Casco Bay Islands off the coast of Portland Maine.

In 1938, Bernstein wrote an essay and a poem that show a return address on Melrose Street in Boston (not far from Joy Street). From his writings we can surmise that Bernstein was also spending time in Washington DC (mostly 1936), New York, and various cities in Maine.

In 1938 and 1939 he worked for the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration of Massachusetts, which produced a guide to the places and people of Massachusetts. Through this work and these travels Bernstein probably had access to libraries that allowed him to conduct the extensive historical research included in “MILLIONS OF QUEERS,” and it provided additional opportunities to befriend members of the Joy Street gang if he had not encountered them earlier.[4] 

Queer Writings
Bernstein was writing and trying to publish essays and poetry on homosexuality beginning as early as 1938, but even the most radical publications of the time probably found his writings too provocative, and none are known to have been published. His essays titled "A Pervert Talks Back” and “They Didn’t Mean Us,” both dated 1938, defend a man on death row for the sexual assault and murder of a young boy, while at the same time strongly condemning pedophilia, with which homosexuality was then often equated.[5] 

Bernstein received one rejection from the North American Book of Verse for a poem titled “Evening Urban Hiker's,” about cruising men in Boston Common. He included this poem, in “MILLIONS OF QUEERS” and, in his self-published book, Perms Partly Pederastic in 1941. (He used “pederastic” and “pederasty” as a synonym for “homosexual,” as did others at the time.) He also copyrighted this provocatively titled book of poems, sending it to the U.S. Copyright Office, and giving his address as “Fort Wadsworth, NY” – where he was stationed as a U.S. Army soldier! He also sent copies of his Pederastic poems to a dozen major libraries in the United States and England.

Bernstein received a second rejection for a 1944 open letter discussing his discharge from the army for being homosexual. The rejection came from the editor of Common Sense, a left-of-center political magazine published between 1932 and 1946. An editorial assistant noted in a letter to Bernstein that Common Sense did not publish open letters, but that if Allen would “cut this down considerably, it might be possible, however, to use it in our Soldier’s Forum.” The manuscript of Bernstein's essay, “My Blue Section 8 Discharge,” has “Common Sense” written on the top in pencil, probably indicating his attempt to resubmit it. 

Claiming Authorship
When Bernstein typed up his essays to send them out for publication he used the names “John McPherson,”[6] “Allen Bernstein,”[7] and “Alan Bernstein.”[8]   Bernstein’s birth certificate spells his name Allen, and he used Allen for college registration and service in the Army as well as numerous other settings.[9]

In “MILLIONS” Bernstein describes the origin of the John McPherson name:

We [homosexuals] learn in time to be careful about telling all, even about telling anything. A name is unimportant. Any name will do. For a hotel register, there’s always Tom Smith or Bill Jones. If we wish to remeet, we can always correct it in the pre-parting instant. A “John McPherson” who turned out to have a distinctly French Canadian surname offered the free use of his Scotch alter ego’s name, when leaving. It’s a screwy sort of generosity. But it’s smart to be safer.... 

Just as Bernstein uses several names to introduce himself, he also uses many different terms in his writings to describe homosexuals, including homoes, lesbians, dikes, tribades, queers, perverts, gays, fairies, queens, third sex, inverts, pansies, transvestists, cross-dressers, aunties, wolves, fags, pederasts and degenerates. Bernstein seems to be an early adopter of a reverse discourse that reclaimed terms most often used by others with negative connotations. At a minimum, his use of these terms acts to neutralize them.

Bernstein’s most significant writings on homosexuality constitute fascinating documents of homosexual American history. 

A Pervert Talks Back (1938)[10]
The “pervert” in this essay is Bernstein, but in the first sentence he defends a man sentenced to death for killing boys, arguing that if he had killed girls he would have had a lesser sentence. Bernstein does not defend the killer’s actions but uses the case of Howard Long, in New Hampshire, to highlight the unequal treatment of homosexuals by the legal system. Bernstein says he is “wrought up about all this because it might easily be me. I am a homosexual.”

The Concord Monitor reported at the time of Howard Long’s execution, the year after Bernstein’s essay, that “Not a single protest had been voiced, publicly at least, against his execution.” The paper added: “In every other of the 21 other hangings in New Hampshire in the last 200 years, according to available records, some persons at least, have fought to the last to save the condemned victim.” Bernstein’s essay may have been the lone defense of Mr. Long. 

When listing the common reasons the public thinks a “son or daughter may turn ‘gay’” Bernstein provides an early use of that then in-group homosexual term. He concludes the article by stating that society should “forget about us [homosexuals], let us alone.”[11] 

They Didn’t Mean Us (1938)[12]
Here Bernstein writes in reaction to newspaper articles in Boston reporting a “wave” of sex crimes against prepubescent children, known in technical language as pedophilia.  Bernstein may have been referring to the arrests, in the Boston area, of a number of “hobos” in 1937. Bernstein’s primary point in this article is that “we park-haunting queers are an entirely different species.” In other words he saying: “they didn’t mean us.”

Bernstein uses the word “homo” several times in this article, for example, calling himself a “normal homo.” As in most other writings, Bernstein here spells the plural “homoes,” writing, for example “of the millions or more of “normal homoes” in this country.” How he came upon this curious plural of homo is unknown. The non-standard usage is surprising given his advanced understanding of the English language, and his advanced education. Writings cited by Bernstein rarely if ever use the word homo, let alone “homoes.”

Providing a clue to the origin of Bernstein's libertarian outlook on homosexuality, he discusses doctors who perceive homosexuality as “normal.” But more importantly, he mentions Andre Gide’s Corydon, which he says “was for a time my bible.” As a way of successfully living a queer life, Bernstein here introduces the idea of hetero "marriages with homo outside affairs.” 

MILLIONS OF QUEERS (Our Homo America) (1940) – See Jonathan Ned Katz: Analyzing Allen Bernstein's "MILLIONS OF QUEERS: (Our Homo America).  

Perms Partly Pederastic (1941)[13]
Bernstein defines pederasty in “MILLIONS OF QUEERS” as “Two men, laying in each other’s arms, fondle, exciting an orgasm (pederasty);…” Like others in 1940 he defines pederasty as a synonym for homosexuality, clearly distinguishing it from pedophilia, sexual contact with prepubescent children.

His poems, which he began writing as early as the late 1930s, are separated into two groups, the first labeled “sexless,” and the second “sodomotical.” The sexless poems express life in general with only remote hints of anything queer.

For example, a poem titled “Trying to Get Relief,” dated 1934, is the only poem indicating when it was written. It discusses frustration and exhaustion experienced struggling to find employment in the midst of the depression. The poem does hint at Bernstein’s knowledge of gay history with the line: “Thus Wilde on jails, but apt here.” 

Perhaps Bernstein’s sexlessness is in part due to his homosexuality making partners difficult to find. But even in his self-labeled sodomotical poems actual sex or love are not always evident, fulfilling or long-lived.

The subject of his poem “Ecstasy” (which may be Bernstein) is easily his most hopeful poem. In it the subject seems to find love or happiness. But the poem is followed, directly on the same page, by “Separation,” expressing the sadness of losing love. This seems to echo the idea, threading through his poems, that relationships are ephemeral.  

Evening Urban Hikers
Perhaps the most intriguing poem in Bernstein’s collection is entitled “Evening Urban Hikers.”

Here in the park sit or walk

Cruising men ready to talk;

Of anything, to anyone,

Out for trade, or just of fun.

All types and kinds, queer and not,

Some out really because it’s hot.

The weather, time, and cigarettes

Make our how-do’s brief; then let’s

On to politics, you or I,

Books, movies, or the starlit sky.

Bernstein submitted this version of the poem to The North American Book of Verse, before self-publishing it in 1941. An editor suggested changes to the poem, none of which Bernstein incorporated into the version published in his book of poetry. However, a slightly modified version is included in “MILLIONS OF QUEERS” with the third and fourth lines removed and the following more provocative lines added to the end:

The weather, time, and cigarettes

 Start things sometimes ending in beds.

Bernstein’s attachment to this poem is indicated by his return to it in 1991, publishing the first version in a booklet celebrating the first 10 years of the Maine group, Mainely Men. Here he discusses the experience of reading the poem out loud at a gathering “around a half-century” after first writing it. A man, “probably in his twenties,” came up to Bernstein after his reading and they discussed how “things have not changed over the years” since he first wrote this poem about cruising in the “Boston Public Gardens.” 

“My Blue Sec.8 Discharge (1944)”[13]
Bernstein wrote this essay within months of being arrested, jailed (where he had forced sex relations with one of his guards), hospitalized and discharged from the army, after admitting he was homosexual. The essay was obviously prepared for publication, but we don’t know where it was submitted. As mentioned above, we know a longer version, in the format of an open letter, was rejected by an editor at Common Sense, who suggested in a letter to Bernstein, August 15, 1944, that they might consider a shortened version for their “Soldier Forum.” The essay discussed here, which was included in a bound volume of essays inherited by his sons, is likely a version prepared for this “Forum.” 

This essay of 1944 shows Bernstein struggling with how to think about the issue of homosexuals in the military in ways that counter military policy and prevailing thought. He does “acquiesce” to his less-than-honorable discharge as “legally correct.” But he argues that its consequences are unfair in terms of his eligibility for veterans’ benefits. He states: “I am entitled neither to mustering out pay nor to a discharge pin.”

Others in the Army knew he was homosexual long before he got discharged, he argues. He cites “character excellent” letters and a good conduct ribbon, but these meant nothing once his homosexuality was discovered. He discusses the arbitrariness with which some homosexuals were dismissed with honorable discharges, and some given section 8, less-than-honorable discharges.

Mostly, Bernstein struggles with the fact that for three and a half years he could be classified as fit to serve, and then a few medical professionals who did not even know him could decide otherwise. Adding insult to injury, they could erase his service by not considering him a veteran.

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Allen Bernstein, Soldier, U.S. Army, 1940-1944

Army Experience (1940-1944)
Bernstein discusses his army experience in at least five documents spanning 56 years. These include (1) the essay he possibly prepared for submission to Common Sense described above (1944), (2) a letter to the Adjunct General of the U.S. Army (in the archives of Common Sense at Yale University, 1944), (3) an interview with Mary Ann Humphrey (published in her book My Country My Right To Serve, 1990), (4) a letter to the editor published in the Portland Press Herald (1993), and (5) in his recorded and transcribed interview with the Library of Congress, Veterans History Project (2002).[15]

Bernstein voluntarily enlisted in the army on September 19, 1940, first serving as an ordinary soldier, then as a staff sergeant in the Quartermaster Corps for eighteen months. His homosexuality became a problem for the Army on January 22, 1944, resulting in his discharge on February 25, 1944. Between enlistment and discharge, Bernstein largely performed clerical work in the United States.

Bernstein partially credits his being Jewish for the inspiration to enlist. But he was not fully aware at the time about what was happening to Jews in Europe. Family members in the United States were receiving letters in the early 1930s, possibly from the Ukraine, discussing concerns about the rise of the Nazis. Bernstein’s desire for full-time employment perhaps best explains his enlistment.

Bernstein was not asked his sexual orientation at the time of his enlistment, but he believed there was a form on which a doctor indicated, without asking, that he was not homosexual. Bernstein was able to select where he wanted to be posted. He chose Staten Island so that, on weekends, he could take the nickel ferry to Manhattan and meet casual pickups. 

Bernstein was then transferred to Fort Lee, Virginia, two hours from Richmond, the closest major city, where he met other gay men. He and one regular pickup, another service member, would meet in Richmond and sleep together in the house of a woman who did not apparently perceive them as homosexual.

"Well, you're attractive"
On January 22, 1944, Bernstein went with another service member to the Richmond Theater to see the visiting Russian Ballet. After Bernstein verbally expressed a sexual interest in this man, the man took the bus back to the base leaving Bernstein alone in Richmond.  As Bernstein recalled in his Library of Congress interview, he

“looked around, saw a sleeping sailor --  there was a guy sleeping at the USO -- and said "Do you want to share a room?" He said "Sure." So, I got into bed, I said something, "Well, you're attractive." He got dressed and left. And I fell asleep. Two hours later, the door, bang on the door, "These are the MPs!" He had filed a statement ... an affidavit, I said "Sure, I'm gay" and the roof fell in.”

In Bernstein’s 1990 interview with Mary Ann Humphrey he states that he was “reported for patting a sailor on the shoulder and telling him he was good-looking. That was all, period.” The MPs arrested him, and put him in the Richmond jail, where he was held from midnight to early the next morning. He was then handcuffed, driven back to Fort Lee, put in solitary confinement for a night, then held in the stockade for three days. During that time he had “forced relations” with one MP, and was able to reject the advances of another.  

After one hour’s notice, he was brought before a board which transferred him to a psychiatric ward. There he remained while the paperwork for his discharge was processed. After three weeks on that ward he was given his blue Section 8 discharge, civilian clothes, and driven to the Fort Lee gate. He was told he was a citizen, given $10 dollars and left to his own devices. He recalls that he “was left without pride, without self-esteem, and in disgrace.”

In Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II (1991) , Allan Berubé reports that about 6000 men and women were given blue section 8 discharges for homosexuality by 1946. A blue discharge (also known as a "blue ticket") was neither honorable nor dishonorable. The blue ticket became the discharge of choice for commanders seeking to remove homosexual service members from the ranks.

Bernstein’s first letter appealing his less-than-honorable discharge is dated March 4, 1944, eight days after being dropped outside the Fort Lee gate. He continued to appeal his discharge numerous times until, 37 years later, on July 16, 1981, he succeeded in persuading the Army to convert it, retroactively, to an honorable discharge. At the time he began his appeals, Bernstein stated in his open letter to Common Sense that, only twice since the founding of the U.S. military, had anyone, for any reason, successfully appealed a dishonorable discharge. He made his first appeal knowing the odds were heavily stacked against him. 

Life After the Military (1944-2008)
After being discharged from the army Bernstein moved back to Boston where he worked a number of jobs while repeatedly appealing his discharge, frustrated by his lack of access to veteran benefits, as well as his right to call himself a veteran. Much of Bernstein’s life after the Army needs to be explored in more detail. His obituary published in the Portland Press Herald on September 10, 2008 sums up much of this period. 

Marriage and Family
After the war, he met and married Anne Fine. They resided in Brighton, Massachusetts, and Henniker, New Hampshire, where Bernstein taught at New England College. During these years, they had two sons, Gerald and Robert, before moving to Maine. The family lived in South Portland, and then in Augusta for many years.

Bernstein worked in Augusta for the Maine State Labor Department as a labor market analyst. He transferred to their Portland office where he stayed until he retired from full-time employment in 1978. At the time of his employment transfer, he moved his residence to Cape Elizabeth, and lived there and in Portland for his many remaining years. Following retirement, he began his second career providing volunteer services to the community.

In “MILLIONS OF QUEERS” Bernstein discusses the possibility of a gay man marrying a woman, and describes one couple that does so with success. He warns gay men contemplating marriage: “If you get married, you let her know first.” This “boils down to the golden rule; treat others as you’d like to be treated.” Discussing his marriage to Anne Fine, Bernstein states in his Library of Congress interview:

I met this nice middle-class Jewish girl from the Boston area, through one of the Nashua, New Hampshire cousins, and we clicked. It was terrific. We were both products of the 30s, in our own early 30s. Quote, "I'm gay. Will you marry me?" "Yes." 

Allen and Anne Bernstein were married for 45 years, until Anne’s death in 1991. The Bernstein’s had two sons, Gerald (in 1947) and Robert (in 1949).

Their father did not explicitly come out to his sons as gay until after the death of their mother in 1991. But, looking back, both sons recalled earlier hints of their father’s sexuality. Gerald found several books on homosexuality in the house when he was 10 or 11. His father, in his interview with the Library of Congress, thought his sons might have known he was gay because there was so much material in the house concerning his appeals to the Army, as well as literature from organizations like the Mattachine Society.

While Bernstein certainly “came out” many times in his life, beginning well before his sons’ births, his sons witnessed a new phase of his coming out process that occurred after his wife’s death during his 80s and 90s. 

Bernstein attended Harvard graduate school for at least one semester beginning in 1948.[17] Records may determine why Bernstein did not remain to complete his degree. After Bernstein’s wife’s death, his son Gerald found an old newsletter from Harvard among his father’s papers. This congratulated Bernstein on the birth of his son (Gerald). When Gerald asked, his father told him he was then going to Harvard to work on a doctorate in education. Bernstein, added that, when questioned by a Harvard authority about his less-than-honorable Army discharge, he told them he was gay, and was asked to leave the University.

In 2008 when Allen Bernstein was near death, Allen told his sons that he had donated his brain to Harvard for scientific study. Allen also stated, according to son Robert, something to that effect that “If I could not get into Harvard when I was alive, at least my brain will get in." Harvard Medical School’s autopsy report found that Bernstein’s “brain looked amazingly good for someone his age.”

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Allen Bernstein, 1954-1955

Gay Organizations and Volunteer Work
Throughout his life Bernstein was a member of a number of different political and social organizations. In Bernstein’s Library of Congress interview he mentions being “a first member of” the Mattachine Society. That Society was founded in Los Angeles in 1950 and a number of affiliated groups using the same name sprang up around the country from 1950 through the 1960s. A founding member of Boston’s Mattachine was Prescott Townsend who Bernstein may have had contact with as early as the 1930s (see “The Joy Street Gang” above). Bernstein may also have joined Mattachine chapters in cities he lived in or visited throughout his life including Chicago, Washington, D.C. and New York.

Mainely Men
Bernstein had a long affiliation with a Maine men’s group called Mainely Men. William (Willy) Willette founded the organization in 1981. The organization “provides a comfortable environment in which men may examine traditional male roles and explore what it means to assume alternative roles.” Members of every sexual orientation gathered (and still gather) twice yearly at a campsite to explore these topics. Bernstein participated in the very first gathering and was a member of the first board. He continued to participate for decades, and it was at one of these gatherings that he read his poem “Evening Urban Hikers” almost a half-century after it was written. 

The Red Cross 
Bernstein also had a very long affiliation with the Red Cross and in 1999, he was honored as a Red Cross “Volunteer of the Year.” In his Library of Congress interview Bernstein reports that he had given 110 blood donations a year when he was asked, because he was over 65, to get a doctor’s certificate allowing him to donate blood. Bernstein recalls that the doctor told the Red Cross: "This guy is gay," and the organization put him on their blood donors’ "permanent blacklist" because of irrational fears over the spread of HIV. Despite this, “believing in a good cause,” Bernstein kept assisting for many years at Red Cross blood donation centers while, at the same time, consulting an attorney about suing the Red Cross to reverse this policy. 

Bernstein in his 80s and 90s
Informants recall Bernstein in his 80s or early 90s, helping with an AIDS hotline and working at a phone bank making calls in response to one of the many ballot initiatives affecting sexual minorities in Maine. He was also reportedly active in American Veterans for Equal Rights, the Matlovich Society, Maine Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance (now EqualityMaine), South Portland Citizens for Justice, and The AIDS Project, GAYLA, and Am Chofshi.

Bernstein PHOTO 1999 COLOR.jpg

In May, 1981, Bernstein wrote a short document titled “CREDO AT 67.9.”  In this he sums up beliefs that explain why he so persistently attempted to advance gay rights through writings and participation in political organizations. He states:

I believe in the unlimited, miraculous capacity of mankind to advance and change things for the better through the power of reason. Nothing happens simply; there are always multiple causes and effects.

Unfortunately, there are always bastards and vandals in the world, and thorns in the roses. It is my religious duty to keep hitting my head against stone walls to push them down, to keep fighting city hall. There is no inevitability about the forces-of-good or the forces-of-evil winning.

Individualists will always find the rest of the world is “out of step” with them.

Bernstein spent much of his adult life living quietly in Maine, rarely calling attention to his pioneering protests against anti-homosexual bigotry. Like many gay men and lesbians he seems to have compartmentalized his life, keeping much of it hidden from those that knew him.

The epitaph Bernstein’s sons chose to place on his tombstone in recognition of his struggles and ultimate vindication comes from the Bible and reads: “Thou hast striven with God and with men, and has prevailed.”  

Finding “MILLIONS OF QUEERS (Our Homo America)” and Allen Bernstein
I found the “MILLIONS” manuscript in 2010 while searching for something unrelated at the National Library of Medicine (NLM), Washington, DC.

"MILLIONS OF QUEERS (Our Homo America) by Allen Bernstein (1940) turned up in a book cataloging the collection of the Surgeon General of the United States. The entry noted it was unpublished and 149 pages.

The title took my breath away. Knowing a little about gay history it seemed of significance, but I could not find a single reference to it in any history books or online.

I requested a copy of “MILLIONS” from the NLM and read it cover to cover when it arrived.

I spent several weeks in the summer of 2010 and several weeks in 2011, 2012, and 2013 trying to figure out who wrote it and why, and how it ended up in the NLM. While Bernstein typed his name in all caps on the cover, I doubted that anyone would use their real name on such a radical piece of literature. I could guess the approximate age of the author, but “Allen Bernstein” is a common name, so it was not easy to find the author.

Library of Congress Interview
The big break in identifying the author came when I found that a gay vet, Allen Irvin Bernstein, had been interviewed by the Library of Congress in February 2003, and first placed online in 2012.[16] I found that interview in 2013 while searching for Bernstein’s name and the words "gay" and "homosexual.”

Still, I had no indication that the Allen Bernstein interviewed was the person who wrote the “MILLIONS” manuscript. So I started searching for Allen Bernsteins who were in WWII, and found quite a few.

Maine Obituary
For an “Alan Bernstein” (“Alan” spelled differently than in the Library of Congress interview) I found a Maine obituary, and Maine is a state referenced fairly frequently in “MILLIONS.” The obituary contained the names of two sons, Gerald and Robert (which differed from the names cited in the Library of Congress interview).

Searching for both sons names I found a Gerald Bernstein in San Francisco who I thought might be the son for whom I was looking. I also found a phone number that might be for this Gerald. But even if I had the right phone number, and if this Gerald was related to the Bernstein in the obituary, I didn't know if that Bernstein was the vet interviewed by the Library of Congress. I also didn’t know if the interviewed vet was the author of “MILLIONS OF QUEERS!”

So I gave Gerald a call, and it turned out I had found the Gerald mentioned in the Maine obituary of “Alan Bernstein.” And I learned that Gerald’s father identified as gay and was a WW II vet.  But Gerald had no knowledge of his father being interviewed by the Library of Congress or of having authored “MILLIONS OF QUEERS.”

Eventually, it turned out, other writings of Bernstein, kept by his son Robert after his father’s death, matched parts of the MILLIONS” text, confirming Allen Bernstein’s authorship. 

I would like to thank a number of individuals that were essential to the research conducted here and the production of the final product.

First, Allen Bernstein’s sons, Gerald and Robert not only helped me identify the author of Millions of Queers as their father, but they graciously gave me access to additional writings, participated in interviews, and reviewed the product reproduced here.

Second, I would like to thank Jonathan Ned Katz, who gave me a master class in historical research. Jonathan helped recognize the importance of "MILLIONS OF QUEERS," helped in every step of the research and writing process, and has graciously offered OutHistory.org as a place for the publication of this work.

Third I would like to thank Kyong Park who retyped the entire "MILLIONS OF QUEERS," for us producing an exact duplicate, searchable document much easier to work with than the original.

And finally, I would like to thank the countless others who helped research this publication include: Betsy Ferber (Bernstein Relative), Claire Rubin (Bernstein Relative), John Rees (National Library of Medicine), Howard Soloman (formerly University of Southern Maine), Libby Bouvier (Boston’s The History Project), Mary Ann Humphrey (author My Country My Right To Serve), William Willette (Mainely Men), Guy Cousins (Mainely Men), Rudy Narvaez (Mainely Men), Marlaine DesChamps (Union College), Debra Fox (Union College), Frances Maloy (Union College), Heather Mayer (University of Chicago), Zoe Gottstein (University of Chicago), Melinda Kent (Harvard University), Liz Francis (Tufts University), Timothy Young (Yale University), Mary Caldera (Yale University), Adam Degraff (Poet), and Alex Shulman (Bernstein Acquaintance). 

Randall L. Sell is an Associate Professor at Drexel University.  Anyone with additional information relevant to this essay is strongly encouraged to contact the author at sellran@gmail.com.) 

[1] Bernstein left Tufts for unknown reasons. His transcript from Union College is missing from their records and the extent to which he studied French there is therefore currently unknown.

[2] Records at the library at Union College, do not indicate whether a copy of the Corydon was available when Bernstein was a student but it was either here or while attending Tufts where Bernstein could have first encountered the edition he most frequently references.

[3] Bernstein’s transcript from the University of Chicago does not document any classes that would have obviously exposed him to Corydon or to other writings by Gide.

[4] In an essay published in 1948, Bernstein credits the Federal Writers’ Project of the 1930s for some of his research on Cornelius Coolidge, an architect who designed and built homes in Boston in the first half of the 1800s.

[5] Though evidence has not been found proving he sent these two essays out for publication, copies exist from the period they were written and are prepared (e.g. with word counts) similarly to other writings he was submitting for publication in the late 1930s.

[6] “A Pervert Talks Back,” 1938.

[7]  “MILLIONS OF QUEERS,” 1940.

[8] “Perms Partly Pederastic,” 1941.

[9] As early as grade school Bernstein’s name was recorded as Alan and this spelling is preferred by his two sons. It is not clear why Bernstein uses one spelling over another.

[10] A PERVERT TALKS BACK: eight double spaced typed pages with the names “John McPherson” and “(Alan Bernstein)” appearing at the top of a copy kept by Bernstein, and, in handwriting the date “Jan 38” and “2 drafts was also a third”; also typewritten above the title is “approximately 1650 words”.

[11] The majority of the content of this essay reappears in some form in Millions of Queers and may have served as the springboard or inspiration for the longer manuscript.

[12]  “They Didn’t Mean Us” : Six double-spaced typed pages with the name “Alan Bernstein” appearing at the end; no date is indicated but a personal copy of Bernstein’s is bound between the 1938 A PERVERT TALKS BACK and another essay dated March 1938. As with “A PERVERT TALKS BACK,” this essay is largely incorporated into “MILLIONS OF QUEERS.”

[13] Perms Partly Pederastic: indicated on the first page as “Privately Printed” and dated 1941 including thirteen poems on sixteen pages using “Alan Bernstein.” Copyrighted by Bernstein while he was soldier in the U.S. Army and listed his address as “Ft Wadsworth, N.Y.”

[14] “My Blue Sec.8 Discharge (1944)” : Five double spaced typed pages on onion skin paper using the name “Allen Bernstein” and an address on Newbury Street in Boston appearing at the top of a copy kept by Bernstein and in handwriting the date “Aug 44” and “Common Sense”; also typewritten above the title is “1200 words.”

[15] Information from the registrar at Harvard University.

[16] The interview with Allen Irvin Bernstein is both transcribed and available to listen to online at: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/vhp-stories/loc.natlib.afc2001001.04938/transcript?ID=sr0001