NEW HAVEN, CT (WTNH) — A 91-year-old veteran, discharged from the U.S. Air Force in 1948 for being gay, is now fighting for equality.
The veteran wants the “undesirable discharge” label removed from his record and to receive a military burial.
For seven decades, Ed Spires kept it a close secret that he was kicked out of the Air Force for being gay. His long-time partner and husband spoke Friday on his behalf.
“You’re humiliated and when you know that you served honorably without causing any problems, that’s even worse,” said Spires’ husband David Rosenberg.
Spires served in the Air Force from 1946 to 1948, but received an “undesirable discharge” when he was outed for sexual orientation.
After the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” in 2011, Spires requested a discharge upgrade, but the Air Force says his paperwork was lost in a fire back in the 70’s.
“It did not tell him how he could attempt to proceed without those records or provide him other means to obtain documentation of his service,” said Yale Law student Erin Baldwin.
Students from the Yale Law School Veterans Services Clinic took on his cause and filed a federal lawsuit against the Air Force Friday morning, looking to get his discharge upgraded to honorable.
“He avoided telling anyone of the inquisition he faced before superior officers when he was told to pack bags and go home because he was gay,” Baldwin said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) is the ranking member of the Veteran’s Affairs Committee and says 100,000 vets received similar discharges for sexual orientation and only a small fraction of those have filed to have it upgraded. He praised Spires for his efforts.
“He is the voice and face of an effort to seek justice for tens of thousands of other vets,” Blumenthal said.
Spires and Rosenberg were married in 2009 in Norwalk after being partners for over 50 years. They’re both veterans but right now only Rosenberg can receive benefits and a military burial, because no one ever knew he was gay while serving in the Army.
“We hope that in doing so the U.S. military may send a message to other gay veterans that their service is appreciated and is recognized with equality under the law,” Rosenberg added.
Connecticut District Court Judge Victor Bolden has been assigned the case. Bolden once served as Corp. Counsel for the City of New Haven.
He has also worked for the NAACP and the ACLU. Right now, there’s no date set on when hearings will begin.