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91-year-old veteran sues Air Force for 1948 discharge based on being gay

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NEW HAVEN--It's been nearly 70 years since Hubert Edward Spires was discharged from the Air Force with an "undesirable" designation because he was gay. Now, after being repeatedly denied, he's suing.

In 1948 Spires was discharged from the Air Force after about two years of service, and despite what he says was faithful service to this country, he was deemed "undesirable" based on who he was. He had worked as a chaplain's assistant at Lackland Air Force Base during his service.

After attending a Halloween party in 1948, those who saw him at the party reported that he was gay, leading to days of interrogation and threats of jail time, a press release from those filing the suit said. Spires refused to cooperate, and was then discharged.

“After being cast out of the Air Force for being a gay man, Ed rarely spoke of his military service or his discharge, humiliated by the Air Force’s labeling of his service as undesirable,” said Mr. Spires’s husband, David Rosenberg, himself a U.S. Army veteran. “For the past decades he has been made to feel ashamed, despite the fact that he served his country honorably.”

Thousands of gay and lesbian service personnel were dishonorably discharged for their sexual orientation after World War II and up to the early 1990s.

When "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was repealed in 2010, the veteran though he'd be eligible for a discharge upgrade, which would allow him to have a military burial, something he wants. However, the Air Force denied his application in 2014, and then his renewed application in the spring of this year.

He has another pending application in now, but there is no known date for decision, and Spires is not healthy--he nearly died a few weeks ago from pneumonia.

According to a statement from those filing the suit, the Air Force denied Spires' request because his records were supposedly lost during a fire in 1973 at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.

Now, Spires and Rosenberg filed a federal lawsuit to compel the Air Force to upgrade his discharge status. They live in Norwalk, Connecticut now.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who sits on the Senate committees for Veterans Affairs and Armed Services; and Erin Baldwin and Miriam Becker-Cohen, who are law students at Yale part of the veterans legal services clinic, were at a press conference to announce the lawsuit.