Miriam Ben-Shalom

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Miriam Ben-Shalom
(מרים בן שלום)
Nickname(s) Miriam Ben-Shalom
Born (1948-05-03) May 3, 1948 (age 67)
Waukesha, Wisconsin
Allegiance Israel (1968-1970)
United States of America (1974-1990)
Service/branch United States Army Reserve
Israeli Army
Years of service 1974-1976, 1988-1990
Rank Staff Sergeant
Unit 84th Training Division, 5091st Reception Battalion[1]
Battles/wars War of Attrition
Other work Suing for her reinstatement
Founding American Veterans for Equal Rights
protesting against Don't ask, don't tell
public school teacher

Miriam Ben-Shalom (Hebrew: מרים בן שלום‎, born May 3, 1948) is an American educator, activist and former Staff Sergeant in the United States Army. After being discharged from the military for homosexuality in 1976, she successfully challenged her discharge in court and returned to military service in 1987, the first openly-gay or lesbian to be reinstated after being discharged under the military's policy excluding homosexuals from military service. She served until 1990 when the Army succeeded in terminating her service after prolonged judicial proceedings.

Early life in US and Israel[edit]

Ben-Shalom was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, one of six children in a Roman Catholic family, and grew up in the surrounding area of Big Bend and East Troy. After her mother died in an automobile accident when she was six, she was largely raised by her father, a World War II veteran and owner of a local chain of convenience stores.[2] Graduating from high school in 1967, she married for a short time and had a daughter. The next year, she converted to Judaism and, at the age of 19, left with her daughter for a five-year residence in Israel, where she took up Israeli citizenship, remarried, changed her name to her current Hebrew name and served in the Israeli Army during the War of Attrition as the driver of an armored personnel carrier.[3] In 1971, she returned to the United States, divorced and entered the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, majoring in creative writing and graduating with a B.A. and M.A.

Service, discharges and activism[edit]

In 1974, Ben-Shalom enlisted in the United States army reserve and joined the 84th Training Division. In 1975, she read the cover story of Time magazine's interview with Leonard Matlovich, a Vietnam War Air Force veteran who decided to come out of the closet as a homosexual and was fighting his discharge. Although Ben-Shalom was out to her commander, the commander made no move to dismiss her until, after graduating from drill sergeant's school, she appeared on local television and outed herself as lesbian. Her commander filed discharge proceedings against her, and she was honorably discharged in 1976.

Ben-Shalom took the Army to court to overturn her dismissal, and in 1980 Judge Terence Evans of the U.S. District Court in Chicago ruled that her dismissal violated the First, Fifth and Ninth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution based upon testimony that she was only dismissed because of her statement to the press. The Army refused to comply with the ruling, and the case dragged on until 1987 when the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago confirmed the previous ruling and forced the Army to comply with the ruling by threatening contempt of court fines. Ben-Shalom reenlisted in September 1988, but the Army appealed the decision and finally won an August 1989 decision from Judge Harlington Wood, Jr. that ruled against Ben-Shalom by ruling her statement to the press as an admission of guilt in violating military policy. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the her appeal of the case on February 26, 1990, and Ben-Shalom's military career ended.

Ben-Shalom returned to Waukesha and was one of six LGBT veterans who founded the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Veterans of America (GLBVA), today known as the American Veterans for Equal Rights.

She continued to participate in a number of protests against the military policy excluding homosexuals from service and in 1993 protested the military's new "Don't ask, don't tell" policy by joining David Mixner in chaining herself to the White House fence. After a long period of work as a teacher, she returned to direct action and was arrested on November 15, 2010, in uniform after chaining herself to the White House fence along with other participants, including Dan Choi.

Present personal life[edit]

She is a member of the New England Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Veterans and of the California Alexander Hamilton American Legion Post 448. A resident of Milwaukee with her life partner, Karen Weiss[4] also serves as a full-time tenured instructor of English with the Milwaukee Area Technical College.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Miriam Ben-Shalom Collection". Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. 
  2. ^ Steve Estes (May 14, 2007). Ask & tell: gay and lesbian veterans speak out. Univ of North Carolina Press. pp. 190–191. 
  3. ^ "Frontlines: Military Gays Fight Back". Mother Jones 1 (4): 5–6. June 1976. ISSN 0362-8841. 
  4. ^ Karen Ocamb (November 22, 2010). "Former Sgt. Miriam Ben-Shalom on the Personal Impact of Serving in Silence". LGBTPOV.