My new book, Scandal on Plum Island: A Commander Becomes the Accused, tells the story of an unsung LGBTQ hero.
Never heard of Major Benjamin Koehler? That was the Army's intention when it squelched the 1914 scandal involving his alleged gropings of subordinates while commander of Fort Terry--a remote defense post in eastern Long Island Sound.
"A must-read for 20th century historians," says historian Amy Kasuga Folk.
In the 1910s, Koehler bore little resemblance to the emerging profile of a sexual "pervert" as poor and effeminate, but when two junior officers annoyed by Koehler's strictness claimed he had groped them, Koehler's unmarried status seemed to lend credence to the allegations. At a time when demonstrated sexual interest in women was becoming a hallmark of a "normal" man, the main woman in Koehler's life was his educated sister, Sophia, who lived with him, providing free labor to the Army. Her letters are among the many sources relied on in the book.
"Social justice meets true-life suspense. You can't put this one down," says best-selling author Nelson DeMille.
Scandal on Plum Island tells the full story of Koehler's troubling case, involving malice at the highest levels of government, changing standards of masculinity, and pushback against women's growing influence.
"An amazing and important story which will surprise many people...a meaningful story with relevance today," says Ann Northrop, activist and co-host of Gay USA.
A little about me:
--spent 4 memorable years with men who questioned prevailing dogmas about manhood at newly-coeducational Vassar College, where I served as editor of the college newspaper
--after college, worked as a reporter for the Buffalo Courier-Express, receiving several Newspaper Guild awards, and earned a master's degree in economics from the State University of New York at Buffalo
--learned to order my thoughts and advocate for good causes at Columbia Law School, where I served as an editor of the Columbia Law Review
--clerked for Federal District Court Judge Harold H. Greene in Washington, DC
--studied with inspirational English teachers at Concord Academy, alma mater of many great writers (e.g. David Michaelis, Susan Minot, Julia Glass, Matt Taibbi)
--helped preserve beautiful, ecologically important land as staff member of The Nature Conservancy (e.g. Montauk Moorlands, Accabonac Harbor, Finger Lakes)
---- received selfless help from many Brazilians, and learned that it is possible to change a dysfunctional obsession with the past, while researching and writing The End of the Rainy Season: Discovering My Family's Hidden Past in Brazil
--became a hip-hop fan thanks to my son, Justin DePay, aka @ahbsnt