(1922 - December 30, 1997) U.S.A.
Feminist, gay rights activist, addictions counselor
Joining the first WAAC battalion during WWII, she first served in the South Pacific and later under the occupation forces in Germany under Eisenhower. Wounded in action, she received the Purple Heart, awarded to soldiers injured due to enemy action.
Counselor/Board President, Alcoholism Center for Women. Lesbian Rights Task Force Chair,
Los Angeles NOW & California NOW. While Chair she was one of the leaders for the March on Sacramento for Gay Rights and spearheaded the media campaign for the women accused of lesbian tendencies on the USS Norton Sound.
While treasurer of California NOW, she built bridges to the political community. Provided printing and consulting services to such political candidates as Jackie Goldberg, Linda Nelson and others.
She was appointed by Gloria Molina to the LA Commission on Veterans' Affairs, but she had to resign in 1996 due to severe health problems.
First seen in the film Documentary Before Stonewall, she was later chronicled in My Country, My Right to Serve by Mary Ann Humphrey, and Conduct Unbecoming by Randy Shilts.
In 1993, the first annual "Sgt. Johnnie Phelps Annual Awards Banquet" was held in Portland, Oregon by the Veterans for Human Rights, and continues today. A portion of the documentary, Trailblazers: Unsung Military Heroines of WWII by Mindy Pomper will be shown ad infinitum at the Women's Memorial in Washington D.C.
Johnnie passed away at the Veterans Home in Barstow. She was 75. She was survived by Grace Bukowski, her life partner of 22 years.
World War II veteran, Johnnie Phelps, a brave, wonderful, kind and generous woman, who later headed the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women, providing key strategic support and morale for the infamous 1980 lesbian harassment and witchhunting incident aboard the Norton Sound. Way before Ellen, Johnnie stood up to then General Eisenhower, outing herself as a lesbian.
In gay veterans' circles, WAC Sergeant Johnnie Phelps became legendary for a conversation she had with Eisenhower when she served on the general's staff during the postwar occupation of Europe. Phelps admired Eisenhower as a soldier's soldier who genuinely cared for his troops and would never order them to do something he would not do himself.
Out of respect for Eisenhower, Phelps would never have lied to him, which was why she knew how to answer the day he called her into his office and said he had heard reports that there were lesbians in the WAC battalion. He wanted a list of their names, he said, so he could get rid of them. That, Phelps suspected, would be a tall order, since she estimated 95 percent of the WAC battalion of nine hundred women at that headquarters was lesbian.
"Yes, sir," Phelps said to the general, according to her later account. She would make the list, if that was the order. Then she reminded Eisenhower that the WAC battalion at his headquarters was one of the most decorated in the Army. It performed superbly, had the fewest unauthorized absences, the least number of venereal-disease cases, and the most infrequent number of pregnancies of any WAC group anywhere.
Getting rid of the lesbians would mean losing competent file clerks, typists, and a large share of the headquarters' key personnel. "I'll make your list," Phelps concluded in her crackling North Carolina accent, "but you've got to know that when you get the list back, my name's going to be first."
Source: Randy Shilts, Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military. © 1994 by the Estate of Randy Shilts. All rights reserved.