Commentary: Murdered soldier's parents know 'don't ask, don't tell' is wrong

The Kansas City StarDecember 3, 2010 

An adequate adjective doesn’t exist to describe this husband and wife’s Tuesday.

The word would have to capture too much: The unrelenting trauma of their son’s murder. Nearly a dozen years of pleading unsuccessfully with military leaders and Congress to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.” And their plain-spoken yet consistent drive to push back ignorance about gays and lesbians.

The wife, Pat Kutteles, settled on “tired.”

Her husband, Wally Kutteles, noted “there are just so many little things that people don’t know.”

He’s burdened by the many details stemming from 1999, when their son was beaten in the head with a baseball bat as he slept on a cot at Fort Campbell, Ky. Other soldiers had accused Pfc. Barry Winchell of being gay. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” didn’t protect Winchell and inadvertently gave cover for his attacker’s views.

Two phone calls Tuesday ignited their emotions again.

The first came from a gay rights advocate saying that a much-anticipated survey of the military rank-and-file had been released. The news confirmed what they have long believed: that a majority doesn’t expect negative repercussions if the military lifts the ban on gays serving openly.

The second call was from the U.S. Department of Justice, notifying them of the Dec. 6 parole hearing for a soldier sentenced for the murder of their 21-year-old son.

So it is time to gird.

For the parole hearing, to construct written pleas to keep the solider imprisoned.

And for testimony today and Friday from military officials who will address Congress. They’ll learn if the survey was successful in forcing resistant military and congressional leaders to shrink from unsubstantiated claims about the 17-year-old policy.

For the South Kansas City couple, repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” is pretty basic.

“I don’t understand why they have to be quiet about who they are or what their sexuality is and yet be put on the front lines to fight for our freedoms,” Pat said.

Said Wally: “I think bigotry is nothing but a weak person’s imitation of strength.”

His wife cried driving home from work Tuesday. Then, she told herself to focus. “You have to pull yourself together and find a solution.”

So they are strategizing with gay rights advocates. And thinking about next March, when they may have to show up once again in U.S. Senate offices to lobby.

Both vowed: “I refuse to give up until it’s done.”

No American family should have to steel against such a backlash to changing an increasingly groundless policy.

Not when common sense should have prevailed long ago.

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