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Gay soldier discharged for being beaten

Published Jan 22, 2006 11:15 AM

A 19-year-old Army private, Kyle Lawson, was physically assaulted and threatened for being gay at the Fort Huachuca Army Base in Arizona. The Army discharged Lawson after a fellow soldier violently beat him.

Lawson suffered a broken nose in the attack. His attacker—Pvt. Zacharias Pierre—reportedly used an anti-gay epithet during the attack. Lawson was later threatened at knifepoint by another soldier. Lawson’s sexual orientation had been revealed by an acquaintance at an October 2005 battalion party.

Fearful for his life, Pvt. Lawson began to sleep on a cot in his drill sergeant’s office. Local police originally charged Pierre with felony assault. Police reports confirm that the attack on Lawson was unprovoked. Fort Huachuca officials used military regulations to take control of the case away from the Sierra Vista police. The officials promptly dropped the felony assault charges after the case was successfully transferred to military jurisdiction.

Media reports indicate that Pierre has received little more than a slap on the wrist for attacking Lawson. Officials have refused to comment on why the initial charges were dropped or what actions were taken. The army claims that the knife threat is “unsubstantiated” and has refused to further investigate the incident.

Patricia Kutteles, the mother of a soldier killed by other members of the military in 1999 for dating a transsexual woman, has spoken out against the Army’s foot-dragging. She criticized military policy regulating service members’ sexual orientation, saying, “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ impacts every service member—gay and straight alike—by creating a weapon to end careers and endanger service members through accusations, finger-pointing and rumor.”

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is the 1993 law that prevents lesbian, gay and bisexual GIs from being open about their sexuality. The law punishes those whose sexual orientation is revealed with the threat of discharge. Proponents of the law insist that it also protects service members who are harassed because of their perceived sexual orientation. The events at Fort Huachuca prove that claims of harassment prevention are mere lip-service as violent intimidation is still condoned by military officials and fueled by the Pentagon’s anti-gay policies.

The brutal death of Kutteles’ son, Army Pvt. Barry Winchell, prompted the Pentagon to outline more concrete proposals supposedly aimed at curbing harassment based on sexual orientation. In 2000 the Pentagon released its so-called anti-harassment plan. Almost five years later violent harassment still occurs with impunity.

Openly gay Massachusetts Congress person Barney Frank wrote to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Shoomaker demanding answers for why Lawson’s attacker has gone unpunished.

Military officials have failed to offer a full account and justification of their actions. Pvt. Lawson’s story indicates that homophobic and anti-trans violence is still condoned and tolerated. The military remains an unsafe environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans GIs who live in constant fear of ridicule, discharge, assault and even murder.