In response to the brutal murder of Private Barry Winchell last July, the army conducted an investigation of Winchell’s regiment, concluding that “no climate of homophobia existed at the base,” according to the New York Times. Winchell was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat while he was sleeping in his barracks by 19-year-old Private Calvin Glover, who was shouting anti-gay epithets. A report was undertaken when public outcry condemned this hate crime. Pentagon officials have concluded that, while some members of Winchell’s unit “held anti-gay attitudes,” the unit “does not suffer from an unacceptable degree of homophobia.”
Winchell’s mother was angered by the report, suspecting an army cover-up and arguing that officers must be held responsible for contributing to an anti-gay atmosphere. Earlier this year, in a worldwide survey by the Pentagon, service members agreed, with a majority reporting a pervasive anti-gay atmosphere in the military, perpetuated by officers.
Winchell’s murder has sparked renewed criticism of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy instituted by President Clinton in 1993. Officials at the Lackland Air Force Base in Texas have altered their enforcement of the policy in response to large numbers of gays being barred from service. Instead of immediately discharging service members who declare their homosexuality, Lackland has instituted intermediate steps. This revision is a deterrent to soldiers who declare that they are homosexual in an attempt to return home “with no questions asked,” says the Washington Post. The problem, Lackland noted, is that “don’t ask, don’t tell” does not, in reality, make a strong distinction between “homosexual orientation,” which is not grounds for discharge, and “homosexual conduct,” which is grounds for discharge. The Post called the belief that visiting a gay nightclub was grounds for dismissal “incorrect,” and reported that Lackland’s new interpretation of the policy insures against this incorrect assumption. But the policy itself is so vague that such “incorrect” and outlandish “proofs” of homosexuality will continue to force service members out of the military until “don’t ask, don’ tell” is changed.