Who was Allen Schindler?
Liz Highleyman | April 05, 2007
The murder of gay sailor Allen Schindler in October 1992 contributed to a national debate in the United States about GLBT people in the military that remains unresolved to this day.
Schindler was born in December 1969 and grew up in Chicago Heights, Ill. A mediocre student, he joined the Navy right out of high school to obtain G.I. Bill money to attend veterinary school. He was first stationed in San Diego, and fulfilled his dream of serving aboard the aircraft carrier USS Midway. But in 1992, he was reassigned to the USS Belleau Wood, which had a reputation for a rough and rowdy crew.
Schindler and other sailors suspected of being gay were routinely called "faggots" and shoved as they walked the ship's halls. As the ship was en route from San Diego to Sasebo, Japan, Schindler, a radioman, broadcast an unauthorized message, "2-Q-T-2-B-S-T-R-8" ("too cute to be straight"), earning a month-long disciplinary confinement. Soon thereafter, he admitted to commanding officers that he was gay. Though the disclosure led to discharge proceedings, Schindler nevertheless felt a sense of relief: "If you can't be yourself, then who are you?" he wrote in his diary.
On the night of Oct. 27, two of Schindler's shipmates, Terry Helvey and Charles Vins, followed him into a public bathroom in a park near the base. Helvey began to beat and kick Schindler, with Vins joining in. As the assailants fled, witnesses summoned the Shore Patrol, and medics tried to revive Schindler without success. The pathologist who conducted the autopsy reported that Schindler's injuries were "similar to a high-speed auto accident or a low-speed aircraft accident." Helvey and Vins were identified and arrested the next morning; Vins received a quick court-martial and was sentenced to just four months in exchange for testimony against Helvey.
The incident received little press coverage until a group of American entertainers Schindler had befriended in Sasebo wrote a letter, printed in the military newspaper Pacific Stars and Stripes, exposing the antigay harassment he had faced. But the Navy tried to cover up the nature of the killing, going so far as to leak a rumor that Schindler and Helvey were quarrelsome gay lovers.
Gay activists raised a furor over the murder, at a time when the issue of gays in the military was high on the national agenda due to Bill Clinton's campaign promise to lift the ban on GLBT service members. Friends and supporters held a memorial in San Diego, while the Human Rights Campaign flew Schindler's mother, Dorothy Hajdys, to Washington to speak at a candlelight vigil.
In May 1993, Helvey was court-martialed in Japan, with his defense focusing on his abusive childhood and use of steroids. Helvey initially claimed that Schindler had made a sexual advance in the bathroom, and later said he found homosexuals "disgusting, sick, and scary." He eventually pleaded guilty, thereby avoiding the death penalty for premeditated murder. In 2002, Hajdys and gay activists successfully opposed his parole, and he continues to serve a life sentence at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
In November 1993, President Clinton signed the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy into law. According to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, more than 10,000 men and women have been discharged from the armed forces since the policy went into effect.
For further information:
Lifetime Network. 1997. Any Mother's Son (film).
Brown, Chip. 1993. "An Accidental Martyr." Esquire (December).
Green, Jesse. 1993. "What the Navy Taught Allen Schindler's Mother." New York Times Magazine (Sept. 12).
Liz Highleyman is a freelance writer and editor who has written widely on health, sexuality, and politics.
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