"Why Do People Have To Push Me Like That?"

  • If it had been anyone else who stood up to Private Calvin Glover about his outrageous, macho bragging that summer night, things might have turned out differently. But it may have been just too humiliating to be challenged by Private First Class Barry Winchell, of all people. Glover was in full boast on the eve of July Fourth as he and his fellow soldiers drank beer around the concrete picnic table outside their barracks at Fort Campbell, Ky. "He would say he was on 'smack' since he was 10," Private First Class Nikita Sanarov said, "and had been on probation since he was 12. Stuff like that." Recalls Private First Class Arthur Hoffman: "He was just trying to make himself look like a badass. The stories were pretty out there."

    Finally one of the beer drinkers, Winchell, told Glover that he was full of it. Glover walked up to Winchell and tried to knock a beer from his hand but failed. Winchell insisted he didn't want to fight, but something drove Glover to keep provoking one. Finally, Winchell tossed his beer aside and hit Glover quickly several times with the heel of his hand. As Glover reeled backward, Winchell grabbed him around the waist and threw him to the ground. That should have been the end to an ordinary fight, but for Glover the stakes were higher. He had just been beat by a man whose suspected homosexuality had preoccupied the barracks for months. "It ain't over," Glover vowed to Winchell. "I will...kill you."

    That is the story that Army prosecutors are expected to tell in a court-martial scheduled to begin this week in the tiny, white courthouse at this Kentucky post. They will allege that Glover followed through on his threat the next night, creeping up to Winchell's cot as he slept and smashing his head in with a baseball bat. But Glover is not the only one on trial. The Army is haunted by the fear that it may be seen as his accomplice for fumbling the military's policy on gays in uniform, not just in this case, but on a more widespread basis.

    Until 1994, when the Clinton Administration imposed the doctrine of "Don't ask, don't tell," gays had been barred, at least in theory, from military service. Under the new rules, endorsed by Congress, commanders cannot ask about a soldier's sexual orientation without specific evidence of homosexual conduct. And soldiers, regardless of their orientation, are to be permitted to serve as long as they keep their sex lives private. Yet the number of soldiers discharged for being gay has grown steadily since the policy began, from 156 in 1993 to 312 last year. Antigay harassment, too, is on the rise in the military's ranks, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a pro-gay group that tracks such incidents. In fact, the allegations surrounding Winchell's life and death suggest that the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, far from being a neat compromise between barring gays and openly accepting them, is being carried out in a way that can create a dangerous atmosphere of intrigue in the ranks.

    While the military has issued a gag order in the Winchell proceedings, a TIME reconstruction of the prosecution's case, based on pretrial statements and testimony, gives a grim account of what transpired at Barracks 4028. Winchell, a .50-cal. machine gunner, loved being in the vaunted 101st Airborne Division--the "Screaming Eagles"--which has played key roles in U.S. military triumphs from D-day to the Gulf War. A native of Kansas City, Mo., Winchell enlisted in 1997 and dreamed of becoming an Army helicopter pilot. But the 21-year-old also had a recurring nightmare: that someone would find out he was gay and end his Army career. Winchell had a girlfriend during basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., but after transferring to Fort Campbell in May 1998, he began spending time with a man who performed as a woman at a Nashville, Tenn., nightclub. He acknowledged to the wife of a fellow soldier that he was gay.

    One night last March, Winchell and his barracks roommate, Specialist Justin Fisher, drove to Nashville and visited the Connection, a mostly gay dance club. It was there that Winchell met Cal ("Calpernia") Addams, an ex-Navy medic and female impersonator. Winchell's regular trips to the club led soldiers in his unit to whisper about the "drag queen" he was dating. The talk depressed Winchell. He had struggled in school with dyslexia, and he was succeeding at something for the first time in the Army. He wanted to make it his career. "He was really worried about people talking about him being gay," said Specialist Lewis Ruiz, a friend. "That was a big deal, because he really wanted to stay in the Army and didn't want to have his name dragged through the mud."

    But virulent antigay bigotry remains an accepted prejudice in much of the U.S. military. So when rumors began to float around that someone in the unit might be gay, a sergeant--in violation of "Don't ask, don't tell"--launched his own informal probe. Fisher had gone to the platoon sergeant, Michael Kleifgen, and said he had dropped a soldier in their unit off at the Connection. He didn't name Winchell, but he specified the date. Kleifgen thumbed through Delta Company's roster and asked soldiers where they had been that night. The sergeant concluded that Winchell had been Fisher's passenger, and later pressed Winchell about it. "[He] was in my truck," the sergeant said. "I asked him if he was gay." Winchell knew his career was in jeopardy, so he denied it, and the sergeant didn't pursue it any further. "I left it at that, because the military has a policy of 'Don't ask, don't tell,'" the sergeant told investigators, apparently oblivious that he had just violated the policy.

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