Very powerful op-ed today from Pat and Wally Kutelles, the parents of Barry Winchell:
The coffee was brewing and we were just starting our day when the telephone rang the morning of July 5, 1999. It was a call that every parent prays never will come.
The Army colonel was calling from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where our son was based in the U.S. Army. A fellow soldier had attacked our son, Barry Winchell. He had been taken to a civilian hospital in Nashville, Tennessee.
We raced to the Kansas City airport. When we arrived at the hospital, Barry was clinging to life. His face was unrecognizable. Contrary to what the colonel had said on the telephone, Barry had not been kicked in the head by the other soldier. He had been beaten with a baseball bat as he slept in the barracks. The doctor said he had irreparable brain damage and recovery was unlikely.
Barry had been a victim of constant, vicious harassment after another soldier — one of two involved in his murder — started a rumor that he was gay.
Several of Barry’s superiors were witnesses to the harassment, yet did nothing about it. Some of those superiors not only did nothing to stop the escalation of violence that would lead to our son’s death, they also took part in the harassment.
Barry’s parents have been stalwart allies in the campaign to end DADT. We’re at a pivotal point in the debate. So, they’ve spoken out again:
The attitude of society toward gays serving in the military has changed in the 17 years since DADT went into effect. It’s no longer the divisive issue it used to be. When we go to Capitol Hill, we talk about the change we’ve witnessed in our lifetimes on LGBT — lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered — issues. It’s clear to us that the younger generation of service members couldn’t care less about sexual orientation. But they couldn’t care more about integrity and honesty, serving one’s country and being supportive of their comrades.
Our work to repeal the law that contributed to our son’s death has given us focus. We look forward to the day when this law is repealed and when the armed forces adopt a policy that demonstrates clearly that all service members, including those who are gay or lesbian, are worthy of serving our country with dignity and integrity.
Only then can our sons and daughters feel safe in reporting harassment. Only then will their superiors, up the chain of command, be held fully responsible for protecting our sons and daughters equally, no matter what their sexual orientation.
Soon, members of the U.S. Senate will have an opportunity to ensure that Barry’s death was not in vain, that no other young man or woman will be denied the chance to serve the country they love simply because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen has said it is the right thing to do. We urge senators to stand with Admiral Mullen and be on the right side of history.