Parents Need to Tell Their Stories About Military's Gay Ban
The three moms talk glowingly about their sons.
One son is Darren Manzella, a decorated Army medic who, while in Iraq, provided medical services to U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians during more than 100 street patrols in Baghdad.
Then there's Barry Winchell, a private first class who had just one more test to pass before achieving his dream of being an Army helicopter pilot.
And Allen Schindler, a 22-year-old Navy radioman, who planned to go to college to pursue his passion of studying animals.
Like most parents whose children enlist in the military, these moms were proud but worried.
But, whether they knew it or not, these moms also needed to be fearful because of the military's anti-gay climate. Their stories are a reminder that the hostile climate doesn't just victimize gay men and women in uniform.
These moms also represent the growing number of parents actively speaking out against Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the pain it causes families.
A worried Nancy Manzella is waiting to see whether the Army brass will toss out Darren for having talked on "60 Minutes" in December about fellow soldiers' positive reactions when he told them he's gay.
Darren is one of about 500 men and women in uniform that the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network says are serving openly despite the ban on being uncloseted.
"His father and I are very proud of him," says Nancy, whose son came out in 2006 to his superiors and fellow soldiers after receiving threats he'd be outed.
"Darren really wants to continue serving his country. But he doesn't want to live a lie," Nancy adds.
Patricia Kutteles, Barry's mom, and Dorothy Hadjys, Allen's mom, share a more painful story: Their sons were killed in anti-gay assaults.
Allen was kicked and beaten so badly that Dorothy identified his body by a tattoo on his arm.
"I made up my mind that I wasn't going to let this happen to any other mother's son," says Dorothy, who still takes anti-depressants to try to cope with her loss. "If I stayed quiet, I would have just been giving up on Allen. People think once a trial is over, that it's all over. But not for the family. You just can't go on with your life."
Patricia's son, Barry, was beaten to death in 1999 by a fellow soldier who assumed he was gay because he was dating a male-to-female transgender dancer.
"Barry's murder changed my whole life. You don't get over it," says Patricia, who gives out an award each year to a servicemember or other leader in the effort to repeal the ban. "The hardest part was taking Barry off the respirator. He was brain dead. It was difficult to think that someone could join the military to represent their country and yet be murdered because of their perceived sexual orientation."
Each spring, moms like these join others in lobbying Congress to lift the ban on gays serving openly in the military and to end the anti-gay climate that can literally be deadly. (To participate in the March 7 lobby day, go to sldn.org.)
Don't Ask, Don't Tell doesn't just hurt gay men and women in uniform. Congress needs to hear first-hand about the pain it causes their moms and dads.