Who was Jeffrey Dunbar and why should we know his name today? Jeffrey Arthur Dunbar was born on April 18, 1953 in Beckley, West Virginia, the son of Hugh Dunbar and his wife, Jane Surbaugh.
Jeffrey Dunbar came to the attention of the world in 1972 when he did something few others were brave enough to do at that time. After dropping out of George Mason High School in Falls Church, Virginia, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, hoping that the Marines would help him sort out his life.
After boot camp, he was given a six-day pass to return home. At the end of his leave, while waiting for a bus to take them back to Camp Lejune, N.C. for infantry training, he and a friend went into a bar named Dolly’s. But Dolly’s was different than anything they had visited before — this bar featured male go-go dancers. Dunbar’s friend was horrified but Dunbar couldn’t wait to return on his next leave.
On his next visit, not only did Jeffrey Dunbar return to Dolly’s, but he met a man and they left together. In November he became infatuated with a young man who had been discharged from the Army for being gay. They ran off to Oklahoma together, but the relationship didn’t go very far. By the time he returned to base, he had been absent without leave (AWOL) for 22 days.
But when he returned to base he knew he couldn’t ever turn his back on his gayness. “I decided I couldn’t live the way I wanted to and remain in the Marine Corps. So I started talking about killing myself so I could get out for suicidal tendencies.” He actually took an overdose of sleeping pills and was hospitalized.
While recovering in the hospital, Marine investigators searched Dunbar’s belongings and found a letter written to him by a former lover. They confronted him and he decided to admit that yes, he was gay.
The Marine Corp started discharge proceedings against him. Dunbar wanted out, but he decided that since he was not going to be able to leave on his own terms he was going to make it difficult for the Marine Corps. Dunbar approached Frank Kameny to appear before the Discharge Board with him. Kameny was not a lawyer, but he was a well-known gay activist.
After a hearing, on March 22, 1972, an administrative board recommended that Lance Cpl. Jeffrey Arthur Dunbar, an “avowed homosexual”, be given an undesirable discharge.
After his undesirable discharge, Dunbar’s life is a bit of a mystery. If there are details of what happened to him over the next nine years I have not yet found them. For some unknown reason, he apparently married a woman in those intervening years. It is unclear if this was a failed attempt to overcome his homosexuality. It is also unclear if he did this of his own free-will or due to some sort of family pressure. That marriage was short-lived. On November 5, 1973, Dunbar married Mayra Beth Stump of 21 S. Fillmore Street in Arlington, Virginia. On his marriage certificate, he listed his address as 4310 Old Spanish Trail in Roanoke, Virginia. Dunbar padded his age by one year to make him 21, old enough to be legally married at that time.
Sadly, Dunbar’s life ended in 1981 when he committed suicide in San Francisco. According to the Gay Pride Crusader, March 19, 1981, page 5:
Man Leaps to His Death in Polk Street Apartment
Jeffrey Dunbar, 28, a former Marine, leaped to his death, four floors, inside, a Polk Street apartment building.
The 28-year-old ex-Marine had gained a bit of fame some years back when he had fought the U.S. Navy (Marines) from being discharged because of his homosexuality.
In recent years, Dunbar was being seen at the U.S. Veterans Administration Hospital/Ft. Miley for emotional problems.
His body was found at 8 AM by the building manager, jean, of the Rex Arms Apartments. She had contacted the editor of the SF Crusader in an attempt to identify the dead man, but it was building occupant, nurse Jess Atler who identified the dead veteran.
Atler told the authorities that he knew the 28 year old dead man, but that he was not home that morning when he came to see him, but two roomies were there and they told the dead man that he (Atler) was not at home. The man, according to observers, appeared to be under the influence of Alcohol or chemical substances.
One strange quirk, was that when his body was being identified by building residents, the editor of the Crusader noticed that the dead man had a good deal of money as the policeman took it out of his pocket in an attempt to identify him. An ambulance driver for King was seen counting the money, and it appeared that there were several twenty dollar bills and other bills, but the Coroner’s Office said that he had only $24 on him.
A tragedy indeed. A dead man, and the vultures descend in the form of “public servants.”
If anyone has further information on the life of Jeffrey Dunbar, I would love to hear from them.
“Marine Discharge Board Turns Down Appeal From Homosexual.” The Danville Register (Danville, Virginia), Wednesday, March 22, 1972, page 13.
“Homosexual Marine Thwarted in Bid to Change Discharge.” The Bee (Danville, Virginia), Wednesday, March 22, 1972, page 16.
“Homosexual Denied Honorable Discharge.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri, Wednesday, March 22, 1972, page 24.
“ACLU Eyes Ouster of Gay Marine.” The News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware), Wednesday, March 22, 1972, page 21.
“Gay Marine to Test Undesirable Discharge.” The Free Lance-Star, March 22, 1972, page 10.
“Marines Urge Ouster of a Homosexual.” The New York Times, March 22, 1972, page 19.
“Marine’s Discharge Protested.” Kingsport Times (Kingsport, Tennessee, Wednesday, March 22, 1972, page 2.
“‘Gay’ Friends Come to Defense of Accused Marine.” The Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio), Sunday, March 26, 1972, page 37.
“The ‘Gay’ Marine Who Came Out of the Closet.” The National Observer, April 15, 1972, page 7.
“Gay Marine Case Figure is AWOL at Quantico.” The Free Lance-Star, May 12, 1972, page 5.
(untitled article). The Danville Register (Danville, Virginia), Friday, June 2, 1972, Page 17.
“Homosexual, 19, Loses His Fight Over Discharge.” The Washington Post, June 2, 1972, page A19.
“Homosexual Marine Loses Bid for Honorable Discharge.” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), Friday, June 2, 1972, page 17.