Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt, of Rosemount, Minnesota, had no idea, on September 11, 2001, how the tragic events of that day would cause tragedy in their family nearly a decade later. On February 27 of this year, their son U.S. Army Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt, was killed in the line of duty by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. Cpl. Wilfahrt was 31-years-old. He also was gay.
Andrew came out to his parents when he was 16. Throughout most of his life he showed no signs of being interested in military service. But, looking for purpose in his life he enlisted in the military – at a time when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was still in place. Andrew understood that joining the military would require him to go back into the closet, but he was willing to do that to serve his country. Before his death, he told his parents that his comrades knew he was gay and that no one cared. They had a bigger challenge to face than a soldier’s sexual orientation.
On the eve of the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, Lori Wilfahrt addressed the 900 attendees of this year’s Twin Cities Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Gala Dinner held in Minneapolis. HRC is the largest GLBT civil rights organization in the country. The speakers at this year’s event included Governor Mark Dayton, Senators Klobuchar and Franken and Representatives Walz and McCollum. None, however, captured the attention of the audience as much as this grieving mother.
In a soft, yet resolute, voice, Lori Wilfahrt talked about her son and her concerns about him joining the military. Although the military policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” will officially come to an end on September 20, 2011, Mrs. Wilfahrt reminded the assembled guests that the end of the policy is only one step forward. The surviving partners of gay and lesbian soldiers who die in service will still not be the first to be notified. Nor will they receive partner benefits. Much work remains to be done.
Mrs. Wilfahrt concluded her moving remarks by saying that her son died for his country and for his home state of Minnesota. He died defending our Constitution – and that includes our state constitution. Next November, Mrs. Wilfahrt continued, voters will decide whether that constitution should be amended to prevent gays and lesbians from marrying in our state. This kind of divisive measure is not what Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt died for, his mother told the hushed crowd.
Then, the audience rose in a spontaneous standing ovation – an ovation that recognized the strength of Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt and the courage and memory of their son, Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt.