The Air Force discharged Hubert Edward Spires, a 91-year-old man, after his supervisors outed him in 1948. Now he’s suing the Secretary of the Air Force in federal court to change the terms of his discharge, which is currently “undesirable.” In the suit, he explains he “nearly died” recently of pneumonia, and it’s important to him to have a military funeral with honors.
Spires served as a chaplain’s assistant for two years in the Air Force at a base near San Antonio, Texas. According to his suit, he had a large circle of gay friends in the area and would see them off-base frequently. But in October 1947, The base commander called a meeting and ordered his aides to begin “cleaning up the base of homosexuals.”
At a Halloween party off the base later that month, where Spires says he was dressed as a laundry detergent, someone mistook his costume for drag. Shortly afterwards, his supervisor interrogated him about whether or not he was gay, which Spires originally declined to answer. He was threatened with stockades for doing so. His supervisor then went through all the names in Spires’s address book and questioned Spires about each one. Eventually he offered to stop the interrogation if Spires signed a statement saying he had “passively participated in homosexual acts,” which he did to end the interrogation.
Spires was quickly discharged after being court-martialed (and not provided a lawyer by the Air Force). He made a second career for himself in theater prop and set design for a local university in Connecticut, where he lives with his longtime partner and now-husband, David Rosenberg. Rosenberg, who is also a veteran, was questioned for being gay while serving in the armed forces but denied it and was allowed to continue serving.
“The idea that this man of faith who served dutifully as a chaplain’s assistant in the armed forces, who built a life and a career that has brought joy to those around him, would leave this earth considered undesirable in the eyes of his country, it’s unthinkable,” Rosenberg said at a press conference announcing the lawsuit, which was brought after two unsuccessful attempts to change his record through regular administrative channels. The Air Force rejected Spires’s application, which he filed after President Obama repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, because it lost the relevant paperwork in a 1973 fire, it claims.
“To be denied [an honorable discharge] is a basic insult to dignity and self respect that lasts as long as the veteran lives,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said at the press conference. “The veterans who served during a period of time when discrimination based on sexual orientation was the most severe also face the obstacle of lost or destroyed records. This is no excuse for denying them their right to an honorable discharge.”