It can be easy to forget the time before the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. As we’re now over a decade into allowing lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) servicemembers to serve openly and a year and half out from the lifting of the ban on transgender people, there are countless stories of folx enduring the hard realities of homophobia and transphobia. Before DADT’s repeal, it was not uncommon to find threads of attacks and abuse woven into the fabric of our nation’s fighting forces. Unfortunately, there a more unknown stories than those we’ve come to learn about even now. But those we’ve seen come to light paint a picture of a time when we absolutely HAD to serve and suffer in silence or face humiliation and harm to our bodies, hearts, and minds. Today marks the tragic anniversary of one such story, a light snuffed out: the death of Army PFC Barry Winchell.
PFC Barry Winchell was just 21 when he was murdered by a fellow soldier. A native of Missouri, Winchell enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1997 and, in 1998, was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky with the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division. It was there that he met Spc Justin Robert Fisher who, along with Calvin Neal Glover, would become Winchell’s roommates and tormentors.
Fisher and Glover hated Winchell, the former going on to spread rumors that Winchell was gay, the latter following Fisher’s example of pushing Winchell over and over again. Barry Winchell endured the abuse and often tried to avoid it or make some sort of peace but those efforts were rebuffed. Though the rumors were spread, no one took formal action to report Winchell’s supposed homosexuality.
In the spring of 1999, Winchell met a transgender performer at the Nashville Connection: Calpernia Addams. The two began dating with Winchell keeping the relationship close-hold by dating Addams off-base and off-duty.
On the night of July 3, 1999, PFC Winchell and Private Glover got into an altercation while outside the barracks. Glover was reportedly bragging about doing drugs, selling drugs, and robbing banks before he enlisted when Winchell told him to go to bed. Glover, drunk, attempted to engage Winchell in a fight that Winchell tried to avoid. Winchell then fought back by punching Glover, shoving him to the ground, and subduing him. The pair were separated by a Staff Duty Noncommissioned Officer (SDNCO). Winchell reportedly tried to make peace, saying, “It’s cool, right?” to Glover who responded with, “No, it’s not cool. It ain’t over. I will f**king kill you. We ain’t through.”
The following comes from the opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces in the U.S. v. Fisher who is referred to as the Appellant:
Appellant gave the underage PVT Glover beer and continued to bait him while the two drank in PVT Glover’s room. Sometime after 1:15 a.m. Appellant and PVT Glover left PVT Glover’s room and walked to Appellant’s room, passing by PFC Winchell who was sleeping on a cot located outside the doorway to the room shared by PFC Winchell and Appellant.
After arriving at Appellant’s room, Appellant turned on his compact disk player and played the soundtrack from “Psycho.” Private Glover picked up Appellant’s wooden baseball bat and began making chopping motions while mumbling to himself. Private Glover had a wide-eyed, psychotic look on his face and Appellant heard him repeatedly mumble the word “faggot.” Private Glover continued walking around swinging the bat for about ten minutes and then told Appellant he wanted to “f**k up” PFC Winchell. Appellant told PVT Glover to “go for it.”
Private Glover left the room and mortally wounded PFC Winchell by hitting him in the head and neck multiple times with the baseball bat as he lay on his cot. Private Glover then returned to the room, announced he had “whooped [PFC Winchell’s] ass,” and secured Appellant’s assistance in washing blood off the bat.Opinion in United States v. Justin R. Fisher, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, 2003
Following the attack, Winchell was left in a coma and was taken of life support on July 6, 1999.
Justin Fisher and Calvin Glover were dishonorably discharged and incarcerated at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks. Glover was initially sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole; however, the decision was made to allow the chance of parole after Glover’s legal team appealed to the court. Fisher was sentenced to 12 1/2 years in prison with major charges dropped due to a plea deal.
The murder of Barry Winchell led Secretary of Defense William Cohen to order a review of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy. The review found that anti-gay sentiments were widely expressed and tolerated in the military; this resulted in the implementation of a new anti-harassment policy in July 2000 of which the effectiveness was disputed.
It would be another decade before the climate would change enough to allow for the possibility of repealing the DADT policy. Until repeal actually happened in 2011, the estimated number of military personnel discharged for homosexuality since WWII was 114,000.
In July 2000, the U.S. Army reviewed the circumstances of PFC Winchell’s death; it found that there was no general climate of homophobia at Ft. Campbell and no officers were held responsible for the murder.
PFC Barry Winchell’s mother, Patricia Kutteles, went on to say that she could’ve cared less if her son was gay. She would go on to become a key component in the efforts to repeal DADT by collaborating with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN). When President Obama signed repeal, she received one of the pens the president used; it was framed in her living room. Pat Kutteles died on November 14, 2016, she was 67.
Former Army Specialist Justin Fisher served only seven years of his 12 1/2 year sentence; he was released in 2006.
Former Army Private Calvin Glover served time in a civilian prison until he was paroled in 2020.
The story of Barry Winchell was made into a movie in 2003, Soldier’s Girl. See the trailer below:
- Army Releases Barry Winchell Murder Conspirator, 5 Years Early (Towleroad)
- Don’t Ask, Don’t Kill (Vanity Fair)
- Don’t ask, don’t tell (Wikipedia)
- Murder of Barry Winchell (Wikipedia)
- Patricia Kutteles, Driving by Tragedy to End ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ Dies at 67 (New York Times)
- Reports Clears Army in Gay Soldier’s Death (ABC News)
- Soldier Gets 12 1/2 Years in Prison for His Role in Beating Death (Los Angeles Times)