A Connecticut man is celebrating this week after the US Air Force granted him an ‘honorable’ discharge. The fresh ruling comes almost 70 years after the military ousted Hubert Edward Spires in 1948 as ‘undesirable’ because of his sexuality.
Spires, then aged 20, began serving in 1946 as a chaplain’s assistant and rose to the rank of sergeant. He was based in San Antonio, Texas.
He told NBC that he associated with other closeted gay men that he met in the Air Force, but that he kept his personal life and military career separate.
‘I lived closeted except when I was off base. I never did anything pertaining to being gay on the base.’
However, in 1947 he was reported for wearing a sparkly Halloween outfit at an event off base. He had dressed as Oxydol ‘Sparkle’ – a type of detergent popularized through ad campaigns at the time. Someone mistook his outfit for drag.
He was pulled in before superiors and interrogated for several days about his sexuality.
Following the interrogation, which included being threatened with prison time, Spires was kicked out in March 1948 for having ‘undesirable traits and character’.
Since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in 2010, former personnel who were dismissed by the military have been able to ask for ‘undesirable’ rulings to be changed to ‘honorable’.
Spires’ has twice before sought to have his ruling changed. His attorney says that he is in poor health, and an honorable discharge would entitle him to have a military funeral.
However, his previous appeals have failed. This was because the Air Force said that it could not find Spires’ files and believed them to have been lost in a 1973 fire.
‘An incredible injustice’
However, Spires, along with the support of his husband David Rosenberg, turned to Yale Law School for help.
Rosenberg also served time in the military and left with his own honorable discharge. He said it was unfair that both men – who have been together 58 years – were not entitled to the same ruling.
‘It is an injustice that the military has treated Ed and me so differently, despite our equal honorable service,’ Rosenberg said.
Yale Veterans Legal Services Clinic was able to track down Spires’ service number, and helped him to file a federal lawsuit against the Air Force. On Friday, he was informed the Air Force Reviews Board Agency had approved his honorable discharge.
In its ruling, the Air Force offers no apology, but says, ‘Sufficient relevant evidence has been presented to demonstrate the existence of an injustice.
‘Although we cannot conclusively determine the applicant was discharged for his sexual orientation, based on our review of the facts and circumstances in this case, it is our opinion his discharge more likely than not meets both conditions noted above.’
Spires’ case had the backing of Connecticut US Senator Richard Blumenthal, who welcomed the news.
He said the decision ‘corrects an incredible injustice … I’m also hopeful and excited for others who were similarly unjustly discharged with less than honorable status simply because of their sexual orientation. I’ll continue to fight for them.’
Spires told the Hartford Courant: ‘My first thought was, “it’s about time.” I can lift my head again.’