Cliff Arnesen joined the Army in 1965. When they discovered that he wasn’t straight, he was arrested and paraded through Fort Dix at gunpoint, court-martialed, and served a year in a United States military prison for his bisexuality. There, he was subject to death threats on a regular basis. He didn’t receive half a court martial, and they didn’t threaten to beat him up “halfway.” Bisexuals in the military were treated the same as gays and lesbians.
When he was initially questioned by military authorities, Arnesen answered honestly that he was attracted to both genders. But he was told that he could be discharged as a “homosexual” because the military made no distinction between a person who was gay and a person who was bisexual.
Shortly after the questioning, a soldier with a loaded pistol came into his cell and handcuffed him. He was ordered to march several miles through Fort Dix to a courthouse – at gunpoint. At the courthouse, he was court-martialed and sentenced to one year of hard labor. During the time he served his sentence, he was kept in a separate area because the other prisoners threatened to kill him constantly.
In 1967, he was given an “Undesirable Discharge,” which means that he was not able to receive any Veterans Administration medical benefits or the VA Bill which would assist with his education.
Courageously, Arnesen persevered and became a nationally recognized advocate for LGBT veterans. In 1989 he became the first and only openly bisexual veteran in U.S. history to testify before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations under the House Congressional Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
Subsequently, he has testified on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. He became the National Vice President of Legislative Affairs for the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Veterans of America and the President of the New England chapter. He continues to advocate tirelessly on their behalf.