One morning a couple weeks back, I stood at the bathroom mirror, mindlessly engaged in my morning ablutions. I love that word. Please use it in a sentence at some point in your day.
Anyway, there I stood, brushing my teeth, slowly entering consciousness, as the unruffled voice of Minnesota Public Radio calmly told me of the day’s news. I always listen to MPR in the morning. It’s kind of like a good friend. And, like a good friend, half the time, I’m not even listening to it, but its mere presence comforts me nonetheless. As often happens, a certain story will grab my attention, and bring me back to the land of the living.
This particular morning, it was the tale of a Minnesota soldier killed in Afghanistan, 31-year-old Corporal Andrew Wilfahrt of Rosemount. He died after his patrol was attacked with an improvised explosive device. Politics and Afghanistan policy aside, nothing brings home the reality of war like the death of someone from your own backyard.
Cathy Wurzer was interviewing Wilfahrt’s mother, Lori Wilfahrt. As Wurzer opened her interview, she described him as “a gentle soul” who “loved classical music.” Call me cynical or just a really savvy homosexual media observer, but I thought to myself: “That sounds like code for gay.” Ears pricked, I continued to listen. Then, about halfway through the interview, my hunch was confirmed. Wurzer said, “He was also gay.” This guy from Minnesota who was killed in Afghanistan was gay.
Wurzer went on to ask Wilfahrt how much her son’s being gay concerned her when she learned he would enter the military.
Wilfahrt replied, “It did a lot. I think it concerned him as well. He spent a lot of time thinking about it, and he came to terms with it. He knew he would have to go back in the closet, and would have to keep that to himself. And he did, for at least part of his stay in the Army. But when I talked to him [or when he wrote maybe] when he was in Afghanistan, he said, ‘Nobody cares.’ He said, ‘Everybody knows. Nobody cares.’ He said, ‘Even the really conservative, religious types—they didn’t care, either.’ He said, ‘It’s about something else.’”
As I stood there listening, toothpaste now drying on my face, I thought to myself, “Wow. This is a big story. Here’s very likely the first known gay soldier from Minnesota killed in action in Afghanistan. It’s a story about a brave young man who sacrificed his life in a military that didn’t recognize his humanity officially, and for a country that didn’t recognize him fully as an equal member of society.”
When I got to the office later that morning, I decided to dig deeper into the story, and see what else was out there. Very quickly into my Google frenzy, however, I realized that not everyone shared my enthusiasm. Of all the local media to cover Wilfahrt’s death, only MPR mentioned he was gay. At the time this column goes to press, MPR is still the only local media to do so. Sad.
Still, in addition to MPR’s contribution, CNN, as well as GLBT media outlets, picked up the story, and have been sharing it across the Internet.
Wurzer and MPR should be commended for the interview and coverage. Wilfahrt’s story dispels a whole host of stereotypes perpetuated by many outside our community, but some even within it. Gay people aren’t the trumped-up threat to unit cohesion that right-wing ideologues would have one believe. And gays are not simply the two-dimensional, materialistic narcissists our own community often would have one believe.
For a community that, so starved for leaders, all too often elevates pseudocelebrities and mediocre pop stars to hero status, Wilfahrt’s death was genuinely heroic. It should be commemorated.
Let’s honor the life and the sacrifice of Andrew Wilfahrt. Share his story with your friends and family. If you can do more, his family has suggested donations in his honor to OutFront Minnesota, the American Civil Liberties Union, or the Minnesota Armed Services Center.