Gay soldier who went on TV is discharged Sergeant wore disguise on 'Donahue'

August 04, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

Nine months ago, Army Sgt. Greg Starr thought it was safe to go on national television -- in disguise -- and tell the nation he was gay. It wasn't.

Monday, he was discharged for that admission, ending an 11-year career, most recently as a Russian-language linguist at the top secret National Security Agency at Fort Meade.

Yesterday, he hung his uniform on an NSA gate in a final act of defiance aimed mostly at President Clinton, who promised during his campaign to lift the ban on gays in the military, then settled on a compromise deemed unacceptable by many gay and lesbian groups.

Mr. Starr said he would pick up the uniform "when the government wants to take me back."

He and nine members of the Gay and Lesbian Veterans of Maryland staged a brief march and protest to oppose the president's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

"They never had any problem in the way I defended my country," said Mr. Starr, who lives in Baltimore. "But they have a problem with what I do in my personal life. It is much like a slave picking cotton for clothes he will never be allowed to wear."

Mr. Starr, 29, appeared on the "Donahue" television show Nov. 23 as "Bob," altering his voice and wearing a fake beard and glasses, to describe his opposition to the ban on gays. He was confronted by superior officers a month later after someone in his unit saw the show and thought he recognized "Bob."

For the next eight months, military investigators tried to confirm that Mr. Starr was "Bob" by showing the tape to 12 people, only four of whom "stated unequivocally that it was Starr," the veterans group contends. The military also planned to do a voice analysis.

In April, Mr. Starr said, he decided not to fight the Army any longer, partly because his father had died and he didn't want to put his family through more turmoil. He said he agreed to be discharged even though he never admitted to Army officials that he is gay. Mr. Starr said yesterday that he never told anyone publicly he was gay and that yesterday was the first time he had confirmed that he was "Bob" on the "Donahue" show.

He argued that because he attempted to keep his sexual preference hidden by appearing in disguise, he did not violate the president's policy. But the policy, which allows homosexuals to serve if they keep their sexual orientation secret, does not go into effect until October.

"Greg Starr obeyed all the rules of the don't ask, don't tell policy," said Alan Stephens, a former Army intelligence officer and a spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Veterans of Maryland. "But he was discharged because the military will do what it wants to do.

In addition to the "Donahue" taping, Mr. Starr appeared in a Sun profile that ran Jan. 30. He was interviewed under the pseudonym "Tom," and yesterday he released the newspaper from its promise of confidentiality.

Yesterday's protest march started at the Shell station at the intersection of Route 32 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and ended at a heavily guarded gate near the main entrance to the top secret NSA listening post, which shuns media coverage. Members carried signs with slogans including "Greg didn't tell, why did they ask?"

Followed by 12 reporters and photographers, Mr. Starr stuck in the collar of his uniform coat a brown envelope that he said contained a letter thanking him for running a program training the military "how not to be prejudiced and discriminate."

Reporters were not allowed to interview other NSA workers who saw the demonstration.

An NSA spokeswoman, Judi Emmel, said the protesters directed their message at the wrong organization.

"It is not an NSA issue," she said, noting that Mr. Starr was discharged from the Army. "For the NSA, sexual preference is not a factor. There are homosexuals who work here."

Mr. Starr said he could apply to the NSA as a civilian but that "they probably wouldn't want me now."

Sgt. Dawn Kilpatrick, an Army spokeswoman, said Mr. Starr's commanding officer would have been obligated to pursue the case under the rules in effect last November.

She would not comment on whether the Army could have investigated Mr. Starr under the new guidelines. "Department of Defense lawyers have had some problems interpreting the new policy," Sergeant Kilpatrick said.

Mr. Starr said the people trying to discredit him first showed the tape of the "Donahue" program to civilian colleagues, who he said didn't care whether he was gay.

It wasn't until his superiors in the 741st Military Intelligence Battalion saw the tape that an investigation began. In the meantime, Mr. Starr said, he was reassigned from his classified position and given administrative work.

An internal memo from Army lawyers to Fort Meade officials, released yesterday by the gay and lesbian advocacy group, suggests that officials lacked evidence to discharge the sergeant in March and recommends that the FBI do a "comparison analysis" of the voices of the "Donahue" guest and Mr. Starr.

"The allegation, unjustified yet tenacious, that the command is pursuing 'Gestapo tactics' can be deflated to a large extent if the command expends its efforts now to determine the facts rather than proceeding to a separation board on innuendo and suspicion," the memo says.

"The military had more evidence that Elvis was alive than Greg Starr was gay," Mr. Stephens said yesterday.

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