Why general finally met with grieving parents
Lesbian, gay, bi & trans GIs--up against the brass
By Leslie Feinberg
Maj. Gen. Robert T. Clark finally deigned to
meet with the parents of Pfc. Barry L. Winchell on May 13--four
years after their son was beaten to death on July 5, 1999, at
Fort Campbell, Ky., while Clark was commander of the base.
Winchell had suffered six months of harassment after he
began dating a trans woman, Calpernia Adams. After months of
national outrage over his brutal slaying, a military court
convicted and sentenced Pvt. Calvin Glover of clubbing Winchell
to death with a baseball bat. Glover received a life sentence.
Pvt. Justin Fisher, who reportedly cheered Glover on, was
sentenced to 12-and-a-half years for lying to
"In the wake of Winchell's murder," charged Servicemembers
Legal Defense Network Director C. Dixon Osburn, "Gen. Clark
demonstrated the poorest leadership, issued no statements
against harassment, refusing to speak with or meet the parents
of Pfc. Winchell or to reassure base soldiers that harassment
would not be tolerated." SLDN assists lesbians and gays in the
Reporting on their May 13 meeting, Winchell's parents Wally
and Patricia Kutteles said Clark proffered no apologies.
So why meet with the couple who charge him with allowing a
"tyrannical, homophobic atmosphere" at Fort Campbell? Protest
about the murder has persisted, and it is hampering Clark's
Last fall, President George W. Bush nominated Clark for
promotion to the Army's second-highest rank of lieutenant
general--a third shiny star for his epaulet. Clearly the
bludgeoning death of the young soldier hadn't tarnished Clark's
brass in the eyes of the commander in chief.
At that time, the Senate Armed Forces Committee refused to
allow Patricia Kutteles to testify against Clark. Facing angry
protests by trans, lesbian, gay, bisexual and women's rights
organizations, the Democrat-controlled committee voted to hold
a closed-door confirmation hearing. But the noisy controversy
hindered the general's promotion; another star wasn't on the
horizon at that time for Clark.
In March, Bush renominated Clark. More protest forced Sen.
John Warner, who heads the Armed Services Com mittee, to table
consideration of the promotion in mid-May. News reports
speculated that pressure for an open hearing may have led the
committee to backpedal.
As his third star was fading for the second time, Clark met
with the Kutteles.
"This meeting was clearly more important to Maj. Gen. Clark
than to us," Patricia Kutteles observed. She said that Clark
acknowledged that he knew the meeting was necessary for his
confirmation. "He felt that his third star resided on that
Steven Ralls, SLDN communications director, emphasized that
the Kutteles have won a considerable victory whether or not
Clark is eventually boosted up another rung on the Pentagon
"This nomination should have been a rubber-stamped approval
but it was not. Gen. Clark was nominated eight months ago when
he should have been confirmed. But this case is a blot on his
record and is stalling that process."
Clark holds the smoking gun
Clark's crime is not merely benign neglect.
The Kutteles have stressed that while Clark was commanding
general at the base he failed to limit anti-gay harassment or
to instruct soldiers about the Penta gon's policies. And, the
parents charge, Clark instigated an illegal investigation into
Winchell's sexuality while ignoring threats to the 21-year-old
soldier's safety. (Washington Blade, May 16)
Clark did most of the talking in the two-hour May 13
meeting. Yet he never once said he was sorry for the human toll
of the terror or his handling of the aftermath, according to an
In an interview with SLDN, Wally Kutteles said that even the
way their son's belongings were sent home showed disrespect.
"The box that was sent looked like it was trash. They didn't
send any dress uniforms, only fatigues--one boot. Everything
was just thrown together. The inside of the box looked like
someone emptied their trash."
Wally Kutteles said he asked Clark, "Why wouldn't you want
to meet us as a sign of courtesy?" The general didn't answer,
Kutteles persisted: "Why did you wait four years to meet
with us?" The Kutteles recall the general retorted, "Well, you
could've called me."
It's not just the Kutteles who have been unable to reach
Clark or other brass. Calpernia Addams says neither "Gen. Clark
nor anyone from the military has ever acknowledged me in any
Addams concluded, "These failures [at Fort Campbell] allowed
the murder of Barry Winchell to take place."
Calpernia Addams was onstage at the premiere of "Soldier's
Girl"--based on the lives of Winchell and Addams--at this
year's Sundance Film Festival. The Advocate magazine reported
that the film "played out to its inexorable ending as a
sold-out crowd gasped with fear, sympathy, revulsion, anger.
When the lights came up the audience jumped to its feet,
clapping until hands were sore and arms were tired. Winchell's
parents were in the audience."
Showtime Network will premiere "Soldier's Girl" on May 31 at
9 p.m. EST.
The Kutteles have been supportive of Addams. Winchell's
father recalls the first time he and his wife saw Addams
perform at Nashville Pride in June 2000. "Oh man, was she
beautiful. And what a dancer. She put on an excellent
They met again at Sundance. Wally Kutteles recalled, "I'll
never forget it, but in the auditorium she leaned over and said
to me that she was nervous and hoped that we weren't mad at her
because of who she was."
The Kutteles explain that they understand that the
relationship was not a gay one, but that they are not anti-gay,
Patricia Kutteles, a registered nurse, said her son would
have known that he could come out to her and find acceptance.
"He knew, by the work I did, how I felt about gay kids."
Her husband added, "My wife and I are not
Not an aberration
The brutal bigotry that fueled the fatal bashing of Winchell
is not an aberration in the U.S. military.
In the months after the horrible slaying, SLDN reported
scores of calls from gay GIs at Fort Campbell who feared for
their own lives. More than 200 soldiers were discharged from
the base over the rest of that year--many voluntarily because
they were terrified. (Gay & Lesbian Times, Oct. 17,
Investigations turned up a pattern of anti-gay harassment,
including graffiti, verbal and physical abuse at the base.
Along with letting an anti-gay climate flourish, SLDN
charged in a letter to the Armed Services Committee in early
January, under Clark's command soldiers and their families
received inadequate health care and the brass condoned
widespread underage drinking of alcohol in the barracks. (New
York Blade, May 16, 2003)
Gay bashing is an intrinsic component of Pentagon culture,
as is racism and sexism.
President Bill Clinton had to surrender to the admirals and
generals after he had made ending the ban on gays in the
military a campaign promise in his 1992 election race.
Clinton backed down and proposed a "compromise"--don't ask,
don't tell. That emboldened the brass and resulted in
stepped-up witch hunts against lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans
GIs. Both houses of Congress at that time were controlled by
When the dogs of war unleash military aggression, discharges
of LGBT soldiers often all but stop, "only to pick up again as
soon as the fighting is over," SLDN reports. "During the 1991
Persian Gulf War, discharges of gay military members were put
on hold, only to be started again when the fighting was
Lesbians are much more likely to be expelled than gay male
While reports of harassment declined in fiscal 2002, the
conscious incitement of bigotry makes life for gay and lesbian
GIs a living hell.
One soldier, Spc Brad Powell, related to SLDN that where he
was stationed a non-commissioned officer instructed his unit
during hand grenade exercises to visualize "blowing up a gay
Powell added that he heard NCOs tell soldiers, "The only way
to decrease our nuclear arsenal is to put all f-gs on an island
and nuke it," and, "The only thing a good f-g needs is a good
GIs remain fearful and closeted. "The goodbyes to loved ones
sent overseas to fight and die are not the hardest part," says
Brian, whose last name is withheld for security reasons. "It's
the hellos. The first time you see your partner in five or six
months, it's very emotional. And you have to shake hands." (Los
Angeles Times, April 17)
It's important to protest that the country's largest
employer wages war on its own rank-and-file employees. But take
a look at the "job." It requires being a foot soldier for an
army of conquest.
The Pentagon, Washington and big capital had no problem with
sending lesbian and gay, bisexual and trans people to kill or
be killed in a murderous siege against the Iraqi people. Money
that should be spent on social services, health care, funding
for AIDS treatment, research and education, are squandered on
the war and the colonial occupation in its aftermath.
The chauvinism, jingoism and Rambo mentality that the right
wing is trying to foment intensify racism, the oppression of
women and trans people, and lesbians, gays and bisexuals.
Every attempt is made to break down solidarity and sow
division. That's the basis of the racist profiling that is
being used to justify the mass round-ups of Muslim, Arab and
South Asian people.
The Pentagon portrays its racist war to recolonize Iraq as
the humanitarian act of a "liberation army."
But the brass hats would like people in this country to
forget the thousands and thousands of Iraqis who are dead or
wounded as a result of this colonial conquest.
This June, lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans activists are
organizing contingents in major Pride marches across the
country to say: "No pride in war! No pride in occupation."
They will march in solidarity with the people of the world
who are resisting the Pentagon--as the left-wing of the LGBT
movement has since the Vietnam War.
As all the lives lost to Pentagon genocide are recalled and
honored, remember Barry Winchell.
Reprinted from the June 5, 2003, issue of
Workers World newspaper
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