Miriam Ben-Shalom (born May 3, 1948 in Waukesha, Wisconsin) is an Israeli-American veteran of the United States Army. She was the first gay or lesbian member of the Armed Forces to be reinstated to her position post-discharge.
After graduating from high school in 1967, she was married to a man for a short time and had a daughter. After her divorce, she immigrated to Israel for five years, became a naturalized citizen, served for a period in the Israel Defense Force and adopted her current Hebrew name. She then moved back to Wisconsin, completed both her B.A. and M.A. at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and then joined the United States Army Reserve's 84th Training Division in 1974.
Ben-Shalom soon involved herself with lesbian and feminist organizations in full view of her commanding officer, who did not act against Ben-Shalom until 1976, when she frankly answered a reporter's question on her sexuality after her graduation from drill sergeant's school; Ben-Shalom was impacted by the public self-disclosure of Air Force Tsgt. Leonard P. Matlovich's sexuality in a landmark TIME Magazine article in the previous year, but her commanding officer decided to seek for a discharge of Ben-Shalom despite having withheld enforcement of the ban on homosexuals from her for the duration of self-closeting. Within the year, she was discharged from the military under an undesirable discharge.
However, Ben-Shalom decided to sue the Army for her re-instatement, and won a May 1980 preliminary agreement from Judge Terrence Evans of the U.S. District Court of Chicago that her discharge vioated the First, Fifth, and Ninth amendments to the United States Constitution. Evans further opined that sexual orientation should be protected from government regulation, both military and civilian, and that the discharge penalized her for her self-disclosure rather than her homosexuality, thus violating the freedom of speech of gay and lesbian service members like Ben-Shalom.
The Army soon appealed the decision, but then withdrew the appeal and then refused to comply with Evans' order for re-instatement of Ben-Shalom. She continued to pursue the case, and in 1987 the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago affirmed Evans' decision, and threatened the Army with serious contempt of court fines, resulting in the Army complying and allowing Ben-Shalom's reinstatement. The Army then appealed the decision by the Court of Appeals, and in August 1989, a federal appeals court ruled against Ben-Shalom, with Judge Harlington Wood, Jr., stating that her disclosure justified the discharge due to the ban on open homosexuals in the military, bypassing the weight of the First Amendment. Ben-Shalom appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, but it refused to consider the case, thus ending her military career.
Ben-Shalom would go on to established the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Veterans Association in 1990 and became active with the Log Cabin Republicans, but mostly directed her time and energy to her employment in the Milwaukee public school system. In 2010, she returned to public life to engage in a series of protests against Don't ask, don't tell when she joined other discharged service members and allies including Lt. Dan Choi in chaining themselves to the White House front fence.