Never forget

How the brutal murder of this gay sailor affected another serviceman’s coming out

Navy Radioman Seaman Allen R. Schindler
Radioman Seaman Allen R. Schindler (Photo: Public Domain)

As we draw to the end of LGBTQ History Month, the life and death of one U.S., gay sailor has been evocatively remembered in a viral Twitter thread. The posting comes from a Navy veteran, Shon (@shonwashed), who grew up in Memphis, Tennessee.

Shon’s mom and dad were marines and he followed in their footsteps. He joined the Navy as a Hospital Corpsman in 2004 and served primarily as a medic for the marines.

Shon took to Twitter on Tuesday to mark the anniversary of the death of another sailor, and how it impacted his mom’s reaction to his own coming out.

“Allen R. Schindler Jr was a radioman in the US Navy who enlisted shortly after high school in ‘88,” Shon began. “On this day in 1992, he was beaten to death by two of his shipmates for being gay. Although I never met him, this is a thread about his life and how he greatly impacted mine.

“Allen was raised in Chicago Heights, Illinois. He came from a Navy family, his grandfather serving during WWII. Schindler wrestled with his sexuality before eventually coming out to his mother who simply thought he was confused. That ambiguity remained until his death.

Related: His family said he died from “a bad case of the flu,” but it was AIDS

“Allen’s Navy career was bittersweet. While he loved his job, the military at the time had a zero-tolerance policy for homosexuals. Unable to live as if he were ashamed, he disclosed his sexuality to his command through a prank that earned him non-judicial punishment.

“Word eventually spread around about Allen being gay. As a result, he faced constant verbal and physical abuse – even as he was preparing for discharge. While stationed in Sasebo, Japan, the harassment reached a climax in the form of a horrific hate crime.

“On October 27, 1992 while on liberty, Allen was cornered in a bathroom and beaten to death by two shipmates from his own command (men not worth naming). The attack was so vicious and left his body so unbelievably mangled, a close casket funeral was recommended.”

Indeed, the experienced forensic pathologist who examined Schindler, 22, said it was the most severe beating he’d ever seen.

Schindler sustained four fatal injuries: to his head, chest, and abdomen. Most of his major body organs were injured. He had multiple bone fractures on the back of his skull and around his eyes. The middle portion of his face was detached from his skull. His family was only able to identify him from a tattoo on his arm.

Related: Navy veteran discharged over sexuality is to get confiscated medal returned

Shon continues: “Allen’s mother, Dorothy Hajdys, was never given the complete details surrounding her son’s murder. She was only told that an altercation took place resulting in his death. She was never given a reason. She was also never informed of the harassment Allen endured for being gay.”

He says it took a reporter from Stars and Stripes newspaper to investigate the murder for the truth to come out.

“After the news broke, major LGBT rights organizations rallied and offered Dorothy support. Six months after Allen’s death, she was in Washington marching for gay rights.”

A fellow sailor was charged with Schindler’s killing. He pleaded guilty to “inflicting great bodily harm,” and is now serving a life sentence in jail. A second man pleaded guilty to lesser charges and was discharged from the Navy after a 78-day jail sentence.

“Like Allen, I struggled with my sexuality,” says Shon. “I was raised in a religious household, actively participated in church, and learned to hate myself before even knowing myself. I too left for the Navy shortly after high school. Unlike Allen, I never spoke to my mom about my ‘demons’.

“While at my first duty station in Okinawa, years of anxiety, and depression led to me breaking up with my longtime girlfriend. It would take another few months before I gained the courage to come out to my mom.

Shon (left) during his military days and (right) today (Photos: Supplied)

“I decided to tell her as I was ramping up for a CASEVAC deployment to Iraq. As dramatic as this sounds, I didn’t want to die without my family knowing who I am. After a few drinks, I called and finally told her. My confession was met with silence.

“My mom then awkwardly ended the conversation. A few months passed where she refused to speak to me without directly acknowledging that was her intent. Outside of emails containing bible passages, there was radio silence. I eventually accepted that I lost my mother.

“The relief I sought from coming out became my worst nightmare. My mom was my world. Although I reconciled with the idea I’d never speak to or see her again, I was still devastated and depressed. I eventually deployed but to Pakistan instead of Iraq. Still no word.

“A few months after we returned to Oki, I received an email from my her not containing a bible verse but instead an almost sterile request for a call. My heart broke. Although she’d cut off communication, it was still unofficial. I was worried my disownment would become formal.

“Nervously, I picked up the phone and dialed. ‘Hey, Mom, it’s me.’ She immediately began sobbing and apologizing for the way she treated me over the last year. She asked for my forgiveness, and through tears I quickly accepted. I had my mom back.

Related: U.S. Army Captain recounts experience of male-on-male sexual assault in the service

“Weeks after our reconciliation, I finally asked what changed her mind. It was something I wondered about. Her answer: Allen Schindler. I had no clue who she was talking about. She went on to tell me about a movie she caught on Lifetime called ‘Any Mother’s Son’.

“The movie was about Allen’s death, and his mother’s journey towards the truth. The striking parallels deeply resonated with her. We were both in the Navy, both in Japan, and both gay. His death also occurred within a week of my birthday.

“That movie, and Allen and Dorothy’s story helped open my mom’s eyes. She did not want to lose me, and decided the only alternative was complete acceptance. Allen was the catalyst. We went on to have an even stronger relationship than before.

“Four years later after passing out at work, doctors discovered my mom had a brain tumor. That tumor eventually progressed to brain cancer. She passed away two years later.

“Although our time together was short lived, I’m grateful for the six years we had together where I lived authentically with her unconditional love and complete acceptance. I will be forever grateful to Allen and his mother Dorothy for the roles they played in our lives.”

After being stationed at Camp Schwab Okinawa, Shon was deployed to Pakistan for six months following the country’s earthquake in 2005. From there he transferred to Cherry Point and deployed to Iraq twice. His final station was MCB Quantico. He now lives in Las Vegas with his husband and works for a start-up, Shift, that helps service members transition into tech careers.