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August 2000

Homophobia in the U.S. Military
"Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell" – Six Years Later
by Harold Jordan
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Private First Class Barry Winchell

A Hostile Climate?

While violent beatings resulting in death may not be the typical scenario for homophobic behavior in the armed forces, much else about the Winchell case – the circumstances leading up to the murder and its aftermath – reveals a pattern that is all too common. Many service members who are suspected of being gay face everyday harassment that is condoned by the leadership. Official complaints are rare because there is no safe recourse.

Official complaints are rare because there is no safe recourse.

Barry Winchell’s beating death had been proceeded by at least four months of taunting, name-calling, rumor-mongering, and threats. Two different inquiries into his private life had been undertaken by two sergeants in his command. These inquires were based on reports that he had been given a ride to a civilian area in the vicinity of a gay bar. At one point in the investigation, Winchell was asked whether he was gay; he said "no."

Several soldiers stationed at Fort Campbell have reported an increase in the harassment of gays and lesbians on base in the weeks following the murder. According to one report, soldiers were led in anti-gay chants during exercises. One chant reportedly used during a five-mile run was, "Faggot, faggot down the street; shoot him, shoot him ,‘til he retreats." Some of the graffiti that appeared on base during that period included a picture of a baseball bat with the inscription "Fag Whacker" and slogans such as "One fag down; More to go" and "A fag free army."

Fort Campbell gives out more discharges for "homosexuality" than any other US military installation in the world. In 1999, 120 soldiers were discharged for this reason, compared to 6 in 1998. Some service members come forward and identify themselves as gay because they fear remaining in the military, while others are involuntarily given the boot. Battalion Commander Kent Schweikert has stated that the rise in gay discharges has nothing to do with the hostile climate on base. In his view, it is due to the fact that gay discharges provide an easy way out of the military, whether one is gay or not. This statement ignores the fact that service members discharged for "homosexuality," even those who receive good discharges, carry a permanent stigma on their military records, one that may have an impact on post-service employment.

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