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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 investigators.

"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 military.

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 military career.

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 meeting."

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 ladder.

"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 SLDN report.

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, he recalls.

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 way."

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 show."

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, either.

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 anti-anything."

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, 2002)

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 Democrats.

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 over."

Lesbians are much more likely to be expelled than gay male soldiers.

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 bar."

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 f-g bashing."

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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