A 91-year-old veteran who was discharged from the U.S. Air Force because of his sexual orientation filed a lawsuit in Federal Court on Friday seeking a change to his military record.
Hubert Edward Spires was discharged from the Air Force with an undesirable designation in 1948 because he is gay, according to the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic.
Spires’ husband, who is a U.S. Army veteran, spoke on behalf of his partner of 58 years at a press conference at the Yale Law School because he is still recovering from pneumonia.
"Despite the discrimination I faced, I left the military with an honorable discharge," Spire’s husband David Rosenberg said. "It is an injustice that the military has treated Ed and me so differently, despite our equal honorable service."
In 2011, Spires became eligible to apply for a discharge upgrade a year after the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the Clinton-era policy that banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. His application was denied twice, once in 2014 and again in 2016, Yale's VLSC said.
The Air Force cited the destruction of his military records in a 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis as the reason for not changing Spires' discharge status to honorable, according to the legal clinic.
"The treatment of him in denying an upgrade of his discharge simply adds to insult to injury, he has suffered too long," Senator Richard Blumenthal said at Friday’s press conference.
For decades, Spires did not discuss his service as a Chaplain’s Assistant at Texas Air Force base from 1946 to 1948.
"He avoided telling anyone of the inquisition he faced before superior officers when he was told to pack his bags and go home because he was gay," said Erin Baldwin, one of the law student interns representing Spires.
Spires, who is in poor health and nearly died of pneumonia several weeks ago, wishes to have a military burial — a benefit he is not entitled to because of his current undesirable discharge status, the clinic said.
"We hope in doing so the us military may send a message to other gay veterans that the service was appreciated and is recognized with equality under the law," Rosenberg said
A spokesman for the Department of Defense, Maj. Ben Sakrisson, provided general information on discharge updates but said "due to privacy laws, I cannot provide information on a particular individual's status."
Sakrisson provided a link to a letter sent to veterans, encouraging those who served and their families who may have been unjustly discharged to seek a correction.