A former 90-year-old radio operator is suing the Air Force 60 years after she was given an “undesirable” discharge because she is a lesbian.
Airman Second Class Helen Grace James had joined the military in 1952 to follow in the footsteps of her father and grandfather.
However, in 1955 James and another female service member were followed by police as they went to dinner. Within days, she was arrested, interrogated and given an “undesirable discharge” on March 3, 1955.
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Military Times reports:
James was subjected to the investigation during the time of the “Lavender Scare,” a Cold War-era persecution of gays and lesbians working for the federal government.
While she went on to become a successful physical therapist, the undesirable discharge continued to haunt her, according to the Post. Even though she was able to have her discharge upgraded to a “general under honorable conditions” in the 1960s, she cannot receive benefits such as the GI Bill or insurance coverage.
So last year, she applied to the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records for an upgrade to an honorable discharge.
She has faced her fair share of bureaucratic hurdles: her records were destroyed in a fire in the 1970s, leaving her claim in limbo. Then, she was informed that they had reached a decision but were waiting for the board’s executive director to sign it. That was in November, according to the Post.
After filing her lawsuit last week, James’ attorney J Cacilia Kim said the discharge has “crippled her throughout her life.”
“I went to Stanford, I was a professor at Cal Fresno. I had patients, friends, students I learned so much from. I’ve done this all because I’ve been pushed. I need to do as much as I can to prove I’m a good person. I still wasn’t whole.”
The Air Force press office has declined to comment on the lawsuit.