Will 'Don't Ask,' Don't Tell' Work?

August 09, 1993

Did Army Sgt. Greg Starr tell or didn't he?

The case of this Russian language linguist at the National Security Agency headquarters at Fort George G. Meade exemplifies the complications inherent in the military's new "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding gays. "Don't ask, don't tell" provides more protection than the old ban, but Mr. Starr's situation shows that even cautious gays may remain subject to relentless attempts to ferret them out.

Mr. Starr was discharged last week for homosexuality, though until that day he never admitted he was gay. He did say he was gay last fall on the "Donohue" show -- but his face, voice and name were disguised. Someone in his unit thought he recognized Mr. Starr and turned him in. The Army then spent eight months, and who knows how much of our tax money, trying to prove that Mr. Starr was the man on "Donohue."

Army officials are correct when they say that the all-out ban on gays was still in force at the time the allegation was made against Mr. Starr. Technically, they were obligated to pursue their investigation of him and kick him out if he was gay -- regardless of the investment they had in his highly specialized skills; regardless of his exemplary record, including several meritorious citations.

Since the old ban is dead and gone, there is no point denouncing its ridiculous unfairness. The relevant question is: How would someone such as Mr. Starr fare under "don't ask, don't tell"?

What violates the "don't tell" provision still remains unclear, other than standing up and declaring, "My name is Greg Starr. I am gay." As it was, Mr. Starr did reveal on TV that he was gay, but he never said who "he" was, or where he was stationed. Indeed, he went to great lengths to keep his identity a secret.

Army officials would not comment when asked if they would be obligated to pursue the case under the new rules promulgated by the Clinton administration. We would hope this would be the type of situation the military would not pursue. If "don't ask, don't tell" is to succeed, gays who are trying to comply by keeping a low profile should not have to live in fear of prying. A gay who disguises himself well enough that he can't be identified without a full-scale probe ought to be left alone.

"Don't ask, don't tell" is a reasonable compromise. But it won't work any better than the old policy if the military continues to go after inconspicuous gays such as Greg Starr.

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