Courage Under Fire
WW II veteran and GLBT activist Rupert “Twink” Starr
By Travis HoewischerPublished June 1, 2011
A stroll around the Upper Arlington home of Rupert “Twink” Starr feels like a mobile history lecture. At 88 years old, his stories of enduring The Depression as the child of a widowed mother, surviving as a POW during World War II, traveling to every country in the world and becoming a college graduate and successful realtor are inspiring in their own right.
What's even more inspiring is that Twink Starr faced such adversity and achieved his goals as an openly gay man for more than 50 years – decades before it was even remotely socially acceptable. His courage makes him a walking monument to the progress Columbus has made as a gay-friendly city.
“I’m still astonished at times,” he said, recalling the days when he would take his boyfriend Allen to Cincinnati for dates.
“I see two girls holding hands walking down High Street and it’s great. Unbelievable. And there’s no one hissing at them or throwing rocks at them. Columbus has come a long way.”
So has Starr. During his early courtship of his partner Allen – whom he lived with for 53 years until he passed away in 2007 – Allen fell ill for a week and the experience was traumatic enough for Starr to reconsider living a life that wasn’t honest.
“I said, ‘That’s it – I’m going to lead my own life. If people don’t like that, that’s tough. That’s their problem, not mine,’” he said.
Starr drew his empowered attitude from his service in the war, where he said it “wasn’t important to be straight, it was important to shoot straight.”
“I figured if I could handle someone trying to kill me, I can certainly handle the ‘disgrace’ of being a gay man,” he said.
Starr was the Grand Marshal of the 2009 Pride Parade, an honor he said he was at first hesitant to accept. That was, until he saw the outpouring of support from several of his colleagues in real estate, the Columbus Jaycees and Junior Chamber of Commerce.
After the Dispatch printed a story about him, Starr got several calls, including one from a Columbus realtor friend who told Starr he had welcomed back a gay son he had previously disowned.
“He said, ‘That’s the greatest story I’ve ever read. You don’t know what that’s done for me. We’re so proud of him and proud of you!’ Now isn’t that wonderful?”
Starr is now a Log Cabin Republican, continuing to play his part in progress by campaigning against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a premise he feels will eventually be completely dismissed.
“[Society] didn’t want the women to vote and they didn’t want interracial marriage – but they all came around to that eventually,” he said.
Pride will honor Starr and many others this year as 70 individuals over the age of 70 serve as grand marshals of the 2011 parade.