Pentagon urged to curb homophobic harassment

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A gay military support group has criticised the Pentagon for not adequately protecting its officers from homophobic abuse after former army specialist Justin Fisher, who was convicted of conspiracy in the murder of Private First Class Barry Winchell was released from prison after serving seven years of an original 12 ½ year sentence.

Winchell was attacked by Calvin Glover, a former soldier based at Fort Campbell, in July 1999, in what was later revealed as a homophobic crime.

An investigation by Servicemembers Legal Defence Network (SLDN) found that Winchell had been the target of constant anti-gay harassment in the months leading up to his murder. In response to the Winchell case, Pentagon leaders adopted a 13-point ‘Anti-Harassment Action Plan,’ meant to protect troops from such harassment.

The SLDN claims there is no evidence that the plan has ever been implemented. “Seven years after the murder of PFC Winchell, the military has done little to protect its troops from another Justin Fisher,” said C Dixon Osburn, executive director of SLDN. “By the Pentagon’s own admission, anti-gay harassment is rampant throughout the forces, yet Pentagon leaders have barely lifted a finger to curb attacks on its own troops.

“The Department of Defence’s anti-harassment plan has not been implemented, its leaders have not been properly trained on dealing with harassment and its service members are left vulnerable to unchecked homophobia. If military leaders do not take action to properly deal with harassment in the ranks, it is only a matter of time before another anti-gay hate crime occurs on their watch.”

A 2000 Department of Defence survey found that 80% of troops had heard derogatory anti-gay remarks during the prior year. Thirty-seven percent said they witnessed or experienced targeted incidents of harassment, 9% of whom reported anti-gay threats and 5% of whom reported witnessing or experiencing anti-gay physical assaults.

That survey led then-Secretary of Defence William Cohen to add “Don’t Harass” to the law’s prior title, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue.” No additional surveys have been conducted since, despite a pledge, as part of the Anti-Harassment Action Plan, to do so.

“Army leaders gave Justin Fisher a shockingly lenient sentence in the first place, but just as importantly, they have also failed, every day since, to protect other soldiers from Barry’s fate,” said Patricia and Wally Kutteles, PFC Winchell’s parents. “As a mother, I never want to see Barry’s story repeated. As an American, I am outraged that our leaders have taken no action to make sure it never happens again.

The parents are now calling for the Pentagon’s ban on openly gay recruits to be repealed.

It comes after gay model Reichen Lehmkuhl revealed that he was bullied in the US Air Force when colleagues questioned his sexuality.

The US is currently preparing to vote on the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, a bill to repeal the law and allow gays to serve openly in the armed forces.