United States
2 min

Homos on the front

The development director of Ottawa’s Bytown Museum has kicked up a controversy by asserting that WWI soldier-poet John McCrae, who famously authored “In Flanders Fields,” was gay and wrote the poem in tribute to his fallen boyfriend. Xtra reported on the museum’s exhibit in June, but now other experts are coming forward to dispute the story. It’s no secret that McCrae was inspired to write the famous poem after his friend Lt Alexis Helmer was killed in the war and that McCrae presided over Helmer’s funeral, but the story that the two may have been lovers is new.

And it’s not a story that’s universally accepted. The Canadian War Museum’s research director says he’s never heard the story, and even the Bytown Museum’s original source says he first heard it from someone at the museum. For now, it seems that the main evidence was that McCrae, at the time a 42-year-old bachelor, was so moved by Helmer’s death that he wrote a poem, which has lasted for close to 100 years, as a memorial to victims of the war (and also a jingoistic endorsement of it).

Meanwhile, in other gays-on-the-front-lines news, President Obama has finally signed the certification to officially end the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, which has barred gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the US military since 1993. The ban will be terminated officially on Sept 20, ending a repeal process that began in 2008, when Obama campaigned on striking down the ban. (Incidentally, Clinton also campaigned on letting gays serve, but Congress opposed that. DADT emerged as a compromise.)

The ban was lifted by an act of Congress in December 2010, which required the president and the joint chiefs of staff to certify that ending the policy wouldn’t harm military readiness. That was followed by a 60-day waiting period (which explains why the policy remains in place until September).

But before we all rush off to join the US military, a reminder from Mr McCrae:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.


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