Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Museum Project

Lesbian and Gay Black Lives     


“I see no reason to treat people like that, and I am not going to do it.”

Larry Anderson -- born in Baltimore, 1947 -- grew up poor and black, navigated street life in New York City, and eventually studied at the U.S. Naval Academy and Michigan State University. He came to Seattle in the early ’70s and became active in radical politics, the Gay Community Center, and the Sexual Minority Prisoners’ Caucus, among many other issues.


I went to the United States Naval Academy, in Annapolis Maryland. I have to tell you what it was like. You walk into this place, and there are hundreds of men from some of the best families. Many of them are telling these stories of their sexual conquests and you think, “Interesting, very interesting.”

When you go to a service academy, in your first year you are scum. They treat you so bad! So here I am among the scum, and I started getting notes from these people -- who are not scum! Upperclassmen. They’re saying, “Come to my room! I’d like to talk to you.” I don’t know what to do with this. What does this mean?

Even though I was such a wonderful plebe -- I polished my shoes and shined my buttons -- there was something about me that wasn’t quite like the rest of the plebes. I remember being at a table once and an upperclassman said, “Look at your fingers!” and I went like this.

Just for the record, Larry is putting his hand out in front of him, as opposed to curling his fingers over his palm.

And this upperclassman said, “What are you doing!” I said, “I’m looking at my fingers, sir.” He said, “Men don’t look at their fingers like that.”

Larry ANderson, Annapolis photo

        Annapolis photo, c. 1966

So he summoned me to his room, and I thought he was going to teach me how to look at my fingers. But that’s not what he wanted to do. He was curious about sexual things. I’m saying, “Well, surely you know about these things. I’ve heard you tell these stories, and it’s all the same organ.” But I never met so many people who had gotten to be so old and had never had sex. It never even dawned on me that people could get to be that age and not have sex.

That you were black, does that figure in the mix?

Oh, it had to! I mean, there were only two of us that year! I don’t want to use the word “fascination.” I think it was just sexual energy exploding.

I’ve always been very interested in the world around me. I didn’t ever think it was full of people just like me but I was blown away. You have no idea what it was like for me to suddenly realize that here are all these virgins. Who are these people? What planet did they grow up on? I found out that at least two other people were involved in having sexual interactions with upperclassmen.

So, when these things happened at the Academy, they weren’t any different, really, from sexual things happening in any other setting. People get together and they have sex. But there were all these prohibitions against it, so that was a major concern.

At the end of plebe year, one is ready to become an upperclassman who then has to run next year’s plebes through these drills. At the evaluation, the Navy officers asked about my sense of the plebe experience. I said, “I really don’t understand what you’re doing! I don’t know why you want to make us parrot all these phrases. I don’t know why you call us names. But I really don’t understand the sexual repression that’s going on here. I’ve never been in a situation where so many people seemed to be taking such ridiculous risks to have sex.”

“What are you talking about?”

I said, “You don’t know that people are having sex here?”

“Who’s having sex?”

I said, “Oh no -- we won’t go there! I’m also telling you that I see no reason to treat people like that, and I am not going to do it.”

“You have to do it. You are in the upper percentile so you have to be part of training next year’s class. Or, you can resign your commission.”

It’s one of those things where you go: Where do you want to be in life? What has value?

Being at the Academy meant there was money going to my family, because I was a military person. They were in the midst of strikes so money was important. But I can honestly say that at no point, in looking back, have I ever thought, “You know, I really should have become an admiral.”

Military indoctrination, forcing the human psyche into this mold, controlling responses -- those things have a place in times of national crises. But I think it’s a mistake to use those things to keep creating crises. So, I don’t think there was anything to gain by staying in the military.

We’d all been going through competition for flight school; some of us had done parachute training. And I had qualified -- I was going to the next level. So people couldn’t believe I was walking away from it.

At that point in time I can’t even say that I knew why. I think it was because I had such visceral reaction to attacking and belittling a whole group of people, for no other reason than because that was my assignment. I could not fathom doing it. I just couldn’t.

Lesbian and Gay Black Lives

Oral history interview with Larry Anderson and Ken Sanchez, August 10, 2000 by Charlie Fuchs and Larry Knopp
     and September 18, 2000 by Charlie Fuchs and Chris Beahler.
Transcribed by: Lisa Galvin
Seattle, WA: Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Museum Project.


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