Biographical Sketch or Historical Note
Clifton Francis Arnesen, Jr. (1948) is a bisexual veteran whose activism focused on veterans health and wellness, gays in the military, and bisexual visibility. As a child, he attended the Wiltwyck school for Boys in Esopus, NY. The school was administratively and financially supported by former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and the collection includes a photo of Arnesen, age 12, posing with the First Lady. The following year, following school protocol, he was transferred to Floyd Patterson Halfway House in Manhattan, where he lived until the age of 16. After a brief period living with his mother in Brooklyn, he joined the army at the age of 17. Because he was under-age, he convinced his mother to sign a waiver so that he could enlist.
After completing basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, Arnesen went AWOL when he learned of a potentially dangerous living situation that involved his mother. He lived in Greenwich Village for a few weeks to ensure her safety, before turning himself in. He was immediately arrested and returned to Fort Dix. When Arnesen admitted to being bisexual, and after being required to require “proof” of his homosexuality, he was court-martialled for an “illegal act of sodomy,” placed in a stockade and sentenced to hard labor for one year; of which he served four months. After his sentence he was returned back to his Advanced Infantry Training Unit, where he faced harassment from both his superiors and fellow soldiers. In January of 1967, Arnesen was given an “Undesirable Discharge” from the military, which precluded him from receiving veteran medical and educational benefits. In 1977, Arnesen petitioned the Army for an upgraded discharge status, which was later changed to “General Under Honorable Conditions.” He would later apply for compensation from the Veterans’ Administration, asserting that he suffered from PTSD as a result of the inhumane treatment he received by the military during this time.
Between the years of 1967 and 1983, Arnesen struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, which eventually resulting in hospitalization. After being warned of preeminent liver failure if he continued his current course of abuse, he began the recovery process and enrolled in college - becoming the first in his family to do so.
Between 1983-1988 he took classes at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, graduating with high honors with a degree in Human Services. He also became involved in the New England Gay and Lesbian Veterans (NEGLV) organization (now named the New England Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Veterans, Inc.), founded in 1985, and served as the organization's president in 1988.
His involvement with the NEGLV was integral to Arnesen’s introduction as an advocate for bisexual veterans and men and women currently serving in the military. In 1989, Cliff became the first openly bisexual veteran to testify before House Congressional Committee on Veterans Affairs subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations to address the exclusion of veteran health services denied to homosexual, bisexual, and transgender veterans. He also testified with other veterans in 1990 as part of a special panel on AIDS/HIV health issues affecting veterans. As a result of the opportunity to speak with other representatives testifying before congress, he became co-founder of the National Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Veterans of America (now known as the American Veterans for Equal Rights). Then again in 1997, Arnesen and other LGBT veterans met with the Assistant Secretary of Defence for Force Management Policy along with other military personnel to discuss issues with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. In a second meeting, the group met with the White House Special Assistant and Senior Advisor for PUblic Liaison to President Bill Clinton to voice concerns over the ban and exclusion of tran-,bi-, and homosexual individuals in the military.
In addition to his advocacy to GLBT veteran’s rights to the government, Arnesen also participated in the Boston’s 1992 Saint Patrick’s Day parade. Boston City Councilor James Kelly refused to allow NEGBLT Veterans to march in St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the group then filed a complaint with Office of Attorney General, Massachusetts, they declined to conduct full investigation, and it was only under court order and the presence of police protection that the Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Irish Group of Boston (GLIB) marched in parade, as the first gay marchers. Although not he is not irish but got involved when realized that one of the anti-gay groups was South Boston Allied War Veteran’s Council. Consequently, after boss recognized him in photo of the parade, Arnesen was fired from his job.
Since 1988, Arnesen has worked tirelessly as an advocate for bisexual visibility/inclusion in the overall LGBT movement; Veterans w/ AIDS, health services for Veterans, and anti-gay discrimination in military.
BiNet USA. “First Person History.” Accessed March 11, 2016. http://www.binetusa.org/Pages/FirstPerson/CliffArnesen_BiVet.html
glaad.”First Person Biography of a Bisexual US Army Veteran.” Accessed March 11, 2016. http://www.glaad.org/2009/09/23/first-person-biography-of-a-bisexual-us-army-veteran
Hutchins, Loraine and Lani Kaahumanu. “Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out.” Los Angeles: Alyson Publications, 1991.