The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network recently reported that Justin Fisher, the man who conspired with Calvin Glover to kill Pfc. Barry Winchell, was released from prison after serving 7 of a 12-year sentence. Barry’s murder brought national attention to Clarksville and Fort Campbell. It also gave new life to the call to end the failed “Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell” policy
Conservative bloggers have also commented on Barry’s death. One went so far as to say that Barry deserved what he got since he violated the DADT policy. That’s a lot like blaming a rape victim for her own attack. This kind of ignorance is as staggering as it is revolting. Unfortunately, it’s also a lot more common than we might think.
Another blogger even said that it was Calvin Glover who was “victimized” in the matter. No, sir. He was not. He picked up a baseball bat and bashed in the skull of a sleeping soldier, over and over again. In the end, Winchell was unrecognizable. If you’re not entirely familiar with the story that surrounds Barry’s murder, I strongly recommend the 2004 Showtime film, Soldier’s Girl. It’s a well-made film, and it will help anyone to comprehend the complexity of the matter that led to Barry’s death.
Glover’s assault was as brutal as it was deadly. This case illustrates the violence that is heaped on GLBT people across the world. This event drew national attention on that violence. It also had a deeper, more disastrous effect.
Barry’s murder has been a cold stake into the heart of the middle Tennessee GLBT community. Everywhere I turned, I encountered someone who either knew Barry or was in the Army at the time of the murder. In fact, when we first started the planning for the 2005 Pride festival here in Clarksville, I met a young man who served with Barry. He cautioned us to “be careful” and was visibly shaken at the mention of having a Pride festival so close to Fort Campbell. He was literally afraid for us. Unfortunately, his fear isn’t at all unusual or uncommon.
There was one person I knew who could really help the healing process more than anyone else. That person is Calpernia Addams, the transgender woman Barry Winchell dated. Thanks to my dear friends at Church Street Freedom Press, I contacted her and invited her to Clarksville for this year’s Pride festival. I hesitated to ask her to tell her story. When I finally did, she very quickly agreed. I have since learned that she is one of the most down-to-earth, genuine, and sincere individuals I’ve ever encountered. I can see why Barry was taken with her. For those of you that had a chance to hear her tell that story, you know how profound and how wonderful it was.
It isn’t just Calpernia’s story, though. It is a story of three young men and a transgender woman who hadn’t completed her transition at the time. No one is to blame except the two who conspired to kill Barry: Glover and Fisher. Their motives have been the topic of much discussion, and I’m not even sure if they knew their own motives fully.
The story has grown even more since then. It isn’t a Republican story, it isn’t a Democrat story. It has emerged into a story for our entire nation and its armed forces. It’s a story that has as its focus a policy where qualified, skilled, highly trained soldiers are cashiered out just for being gay. An overwhelming majority of the people of the United States support ending the ban on gay soldiers in the military.
It’s only the present environment of homophobia and a foolish “manly-man” mentality that reigns in the Pentagon that stands in the way of real progress. The army learned how to work with minorities and women, and they will learn to work with those who are gay and lesbian. But the cooperation is not easy coming. It will take work on behalf of all people.
In the midst of all this debate and anti-gay sentiment in the service, we’re still faced with a cold reality. Barry Winchell was killed by Glover, someone who was supposed to defend his life and the lives of all of us in America. The man who “egged on” that murderer, Justin Fisher, is no longer in prison. Fisher will have to live with his involvement in the bloody murder of an innocent human being. Yes, he did his time. No, it wasn’t enough.
My good friend and writing mentor, Michael Rowe, interviewed Barry’s mother and stepfather for The Advocate in June of 2003. That article, “Walking with the Ghost of Barry Winchell,” is a profound telling of his life and the relationship he had with his family. It is required reading for anyone who wants to know more about the man that Barry was.
In the end, we should remember that these were … and are… real people whose lives have been forever impacted by this one act of hate and violence. In fact, it’s impacted all of us. Sadly, we allowed it to frighten us into silence. This is the real tragedy. We should continue to demand the repeal of the Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell policy. The only thing we should really fear is that our silence will bring on more oppression.
David W. Shelton is pastor of Christian Community Church of Clarksville and is the author of The Rainbow Kingdom: Christianity & the Homosexual Reconciled. He is chairman of Clarksville Pride, inc. and serves on the Clarksville Human Relations Commission.