91-year-old gay veteran sues Air Force over ‘undesirable discharge’

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — A 91-year-old man who was discharged from the Air Force nearly 70 years ago for being gay isn’t giving up his fight for equality.

Ed Spires of Norwalk, filed suit to get his “undesirable discharge” status upgraded, and after spending three weeks in the hospital battling pneumonia, one of his last wishes is to be granted permission for a full military burial.

Out of shame, Spires kept quiet for 70 long years about why he was discharged from the Air Force.

“You’re humiliated,” said David Rosenberg, Spires long-time partner and now spouse. “And when you know that you served without causing problems, makes it even worse.”

Spires served in the Air Force from 1946 to 1948, but received an “undesirable discharge” when he was outed for being gay. After the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, in 2011, Spires requested a discharge upgrade. The Air Force responded by saying his paperwork stipulating why he was discharged was lost in a fire back in the 70’s.

“It did not tell him how to attempt to proceed without those records or provide him other means to obtain documents of his service,” said Erin Baldwin, a student at Yale Law School.

Students from the Yale Law School Veterans Services Clinic took on his cause and filed a federal lawsuit against the Air Force Friday morning. They are seeking to get his discharge upgraded to “honorable.”

“He avoided telling anyone of the inquisition he faced before superior officers when told to pack bags and go home because he was gay,” Baldwin told reporters in a press conference Friday afternoon at Yale Law School.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), is the ranking member of the Veteran’s Affairs Committee and said 100,000 vets received similar discharges for sexual orientation. Only about 500 of those have filed to have it upgraded. Blumenthal 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 Connecticut legalized same-sex marriage. They’ve been partners for over 50 years. They’re also 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 vets that their service is appreciated and recognized under the law,” Rosenberg said.

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.

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