Date of Award
Between 1934 and 1957, J. Edgar Hoover - the presiding director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation – signed documents approving the transfer of over twenty military men with a charge of “Sodomy” to Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. Through the first half of the twentieth century, Alcatraz was notorious for it’s incredibly violent and high profile criminals. Since the island was isolated and conditions were severe, Alcatraz was the designated site for the United States to imprison undesirable people: violent and influential men who they did not want to rejoin society. When considering the legal term “Sodomy”– which in 1934 was deemed “any penetrative sex between two men” - in the context of World War II-era United States, “Sodomy” as an offense does not fit Alcatraz’ reputation. Alcatraz was teeming with men such as James “Whitey” Bulgar, who was convicted of nineteen murders, and Al Capone, a famous crime boss. For twenty-nine men to have been imprisoned alongside figures such as Bulgar and Capone simply because they engaged in sexual contact with other men was not an accident. My research thus far shows that homosexual men – whether self-identified or perceived – were brought to Alcatraz for the specific reason of punishing and containing their homosexual identity, not the physical act of Sodomy. Once brought to Alcatraz, these men were subjected to medical procedures and psychological treatment on the basis of their ‘illegal’ sexuality. Imprisoning Sexuality connects the dots between twenty-nine military men’s incarceration at Alcatraz; the social climate in 1930s-50s California in the context of a broader, wartime United States; the medical pathologization of homosexuality; and the nature of masculinity in the military to argue that the incarceration of these twenty-nine men was a calculated decision by the United States to remove homosexuality from the military, and from the social sphere. My work draws on the extensive collection of prisoner files at the San Francisco National Archives, which I examine in order to track patterns of a “Sexual Psychopathy” diagnosis, extended prison sentences, dishonorable discharges, and evidence of homosexual conversion therapy within the penitentiary. This evidence, combined with the legal and social history of Greater California during WWII, allows me to track a single point in the rise of what I classify as an increasingly violent heteronormative carceral State.
Overdorf, Vic, "Imprisoning Sexuality: The Abuses of the State in Homosexual Male Incarceration at Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary (1934-1957)" (2017). Undergraduate Honors Thesis Collection. 413.