Navy legal officer rejects some testimony in gay aviator's case

July 24, 1992|By Newport News Daily Press

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- A Navy legal officer quashed almost all of self-proclaimed gay aviator Lt. j.g. Tracy Thorne's defense yesterday during a board of inquiry to judge whether the lieutenant should be ousted from the Navy.

"This board hearing is not the forum for debate on policy, pure and simple," said Lt. Cmdr. Henry F. Sonday Jr. in refusing to allow 79 of 101 proposed defense exhibits and the testimony of a half-dozen witnesses.

Commander Sonday is the legal adviser to the three-man board of inquiry being held at Oceana Naval Air Station to decide whether Lieutenant Thorne, a top naval aviator who announced he was gay on ABC's "Nightline" on May 19, should be forced out of the Navy.

The board may rule today.

With his mother and sister at yesterday's hearing for support, Lieutenant Thorne said he decided to announce that he was gay on national television to force the military's hand on what he said was a "ridiculous policy."

Lieutenant Thorne, a bombardier-navigator, was grounded and removed from the squadron shortly after the "Nightline" broadcast and reassigned to a desk job pending his administrative hearing.

Based on a Defense Department policy banning homosexuals from military service, Navy regulations require that any officer who states that he or she is gay must be separated from the Navy. A discharge would be honorable.

The only person who can reverse that decision under the regulations is the secretary of the Navy.

It was on that provision that the lieutenant's attorneys had based the brunt of their defense, which they said in opening arguments would show that Lieutenant Thorne had been an asset to the Navy before his announcement and should continue to serve.

Commander Sonday's refusal to allow written testimony on the history of the military's ban on homosexuals and studies debunking what Lieutenant Thorne's attorneys called the myths of gays in the military denied the lieutenant his basic rights, his attorneys said.

Similar testimony has been allowed in previous boards of inquiry, the attorneys said.

Two Navy aviators who were allowed to testify for the defense declared Lieutenant Thorne a top aviator and officer.

The Navy's presentation consisted only of tapes of the "Nightline" broadcast, and Lieutenant Thorne's appearances on the NBC's "Today" show and CNN's "Sonya Live."

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