Thursday, January 26, 2012

In His Absence


Our Guest Blogger today is Kathy Gillern, whose son Aeryn disappeared in Vienna, Austria in 2007. Aeryn has yet to be found. Kathy has been met with extreme homophobic hostility and resistance within the Vienna police because of Aeryn’s sexual orientation. She has been fighting for justice ever since:  

When I speak of my son, Aeryn M. J. Gillern, I find myself interweaving the past and present tense, but never the future.  I do this because my son disappeared in Vienna, Austria on October 29, 2007.  
My son was 34 years old when I last saw him, September 19, 2007. On October 31, 2007, I received a call from UNIDO in Vienna, Austria, where my son worked; they told me my son was missing.

Aeryn is the older of my two sons.  He attended high school in the small upstate village of Groton, NY.  When everyone wore flannels and jeans, Aeryn wore button down shirts and pressed pants.  While his friends listened to rock, Aeryn listened to the Carpenters and classical music.  He graduated from Franciscan University Steubenville in 1997, and completed a Master's in 1999. He went on to obtain two additional Master's Degrees, while living in Vienna, at Webster/American University. 
Aeryn found solace in religion, and attended Mass regularly.  He loved singing in the choir.  He regularly ran, biked, rollerbladed, and worked out. He enjoyed cooking and baking for friends. He had a great sense of humor and loved British comedies. He wrote poems.  As I write about him, I picture his eyelashes curled above his green eyes, the way he would wrinkle his nose, and scrunch up his face when he was thinking.  I can hear his deep voice and silly laugh.  I called him my Eurobrat. 

My son was also openly gay.  Aeryn did not define his life by his sexuality and was a man with many skills and passions.  His grand, unique personality could not be condensed into a single characteristic. And yet, over the past four years, attempts have been made to reduce my son to one, small, word.

On my web site for my son—www.aeryngillern.com—I detail my interactions with the Vienna Police and US Embassy which began November 2, 2007. 

I thought that being a retired police officer would help me deal with the police in Vienna. I was wrong. After my first encounter with them I realized they were not interested in helping me find my son. Their aim was to discredit my son.  They constantly referred to his sexuality with mocking, denigrating remarks that were shocking, sadistic, and sexually explicit. The officers’ physical gestures, which accompanied the remarks, needed no translation.  These were not isolated incidences perpetrated by one officer.

This treatment continued through several meetings with multiple officers. Their insensitivity, rudeness, and lack of empathy, could not be tossed away as cultural misunderstanding.  Through the officers’ lies, inconsistencies, deception, and undisguised disgust towards my son, they attempted to reduce my son to a caricature.  In his absence, they treated my son as someone less than deserving of their time, interest, and respect. My son’s accomplishments, interests, and humanity were suddenly irrelevant; my son was gay, and to them that was, and remains, the end of the story. 

My son has never been found.  Initially the Vienna Police had told us that an elaborate search was conducted. Supposedly this search involved canine units, a boat, divers, dredging a canal, all within a 30 minute window of time.  After a later inquiry into police actions, a new story was released on February 2009. Remarkably, everything which had been previously disclosed to me and the UNIDO witnesses had changed. The official story now is that there was no search.  The Fire Department responded, but did not enter and clear the water. 

Since February 2009, the Police have refused to meet with me. I have requested and been denied the Case File. They refuse to hand my son's case to their newly formed Cold Case Squad. I am told that Aeryn’s case remains open, although others who inquire have been told it is closed.

On December 6, 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a historic speech to the UN regarding LGBT rights worldwide.  On that same day President Obama issued a Memorandum to all Heads of Departments and Agencies: "By this memorandum I am directing all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons."

Does this include US Citizens abroad that are LGBT?

I am asking that my New York State Senators and Marco Schreuder (Green Party Representative, Vienna) assist me in getting Aeryn’s case file from the Vienna Police and ensuring that the file be given to the Cold Case Squad for further review.

Please, help raise awareness for Aeryn’s case by signing my petition at Change.org. The petition is addressed to Senator Gillibrand (D-NY) and Marco Schreuder (Green Party-Vienna) and is easy to sign through this online website.

Someone asked me how long will I continue to fight for answers; for the possibility of bringing my son home; for the justice denied to my son?  The answer is simple: Forever. In his absence I am his voice, and in his absence I will continue to fight.

Thank you,
Kathy Gillern

7 comments:

Deesdrib said...

Kathy, I hope you get some answers. I can't even begin to imagine what it is like to not know what happenend to your child. I pray for you and your family that you may have peace.

Jessica said...

Kathy, we love you and we love Aeryn. I want him to come home --as you describe him, I can see him so well. The injustice in this case is so glaring...I don't know how these civil servants can live with themselves. love you,

alexmarie said...

How sad and frightening that anyone could lose their child like this. I am heartbroken to think that your grown son can just disappear like he did with no clues and no help from the police. I pray you get answers Kathy. How absurd that anyone could judge a person on their sexuality and that alone. Your love for your beautiful son shines through this post. Thank you for sharing with us all.

Shelby said...

This story breaks my heart every time I think about it. I hope our government helps you get some answers.

phoebeholmes.com said...

This story never fails to make me shake my head in disbelief at how the case was handled and how Kathy has been treated. I will keep praying for you all, that you will get answers to what happened.

Aishlin said...

This is a well-written and deeply moving post. I'd heard a little of Aeryn's story before, but I hadn't realized the cops displayed such open homophobia. Reading the details of your son's personality, I felt that he would be a wonderful person to know. His disappearance is a tragedy. I'm so sorry your family has gone through this heartbreak and I hope you can find justice and answers.

Michael said...

Kathy, your son Aeryn was a good friend to me at FUS and I will help you find justice and some closure In this case as best I can. Who do we need to write to and I'll fire off a letter?