This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Unsuitable and Incompatible: Ensign Vernon "Copy" Berg, Bisexuality, and the Cold War U.S. Navy




Haley, Heather

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation



Restriction Status


Restriction Type


Date Available



This research introduces “the Cold War ideal of American morality” to the historiography surrounding the federal purges of gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals known as the Lavender Scare. Alluded to, but never formally introduced into the literature, conformity to the ideal required Americans to, at the very least, project cisgender heteronormative behavior and reject same-sex intimacy as “deviant.” The unsubstantiated idea that such private consensual same-sex intimacy made the person susceptible to foreign coercion and blackmail continued to be the most prevalent justification for their removal from military service. As this dissertation shows, the U.S. Navy continued to model its personnel policies and regulations on this ideal well into the 1970s, despite policy changes made by the Civil Service Commission in July 1975 that welcomed self-identified gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals into federal employment. Using the administrative discharge hearing of Ens. Vernon Edward “Copy” Berg, III, and that of his contemporary Air Force Tech. Sgt. Leonard Phillip Matlovich, this research places both men among proponents of gay liberation and the particular source of ire from conservative “family values” evangelicals, as both men publicly challenged the military’s decades-old policies that continued to discriminate against gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals into the mid-1970s.