A 90-year-old lesbian who was dishonourably discharged more than 60 years ago from the US air force for her sexuality is now suing them.
Helen Grace James said she knew she was a lesbian from a young age, even if she didn’t know the word for it, Pink News has reported.
James joined the air force in 1952, aged 25.
During that decade, the military embarked on a witch-hunt for gay people among the ranks, in what became known as the ‘lavender scare’.
Service members were instructed to report people they suspected of homosexuality among the ranks, and up to 5,000 people were discharged, mostly women.
James and two other lesbians on their base in Long Island believed they were being followed and their rooms searched.
She was one day arrested when she left the base to have lunch with a female friend.
James was interrogated for days and threatened with being outed to her family, before she agreed to sign whatever the air force wanted.
She was dishonourably discharged and felt she couldn’t return home to her family.
“I had to move myself away. I couldn’t be around my family and friends,” she said.
“I couldn’t be in the same area with that shame.”
Because of the dishonourable discharge, James has been unable to access education and insurance benefits usually available to veterans.
Last year she applied to have her records upgraded to reflect an honourable discharge, but was told the records had been destroyed.
Finally, last week she filed a lawsuit against the air force.
“I’ve done this all because I’ve been pushed,” said James.
“I need to do as much as I can to prove I’m a good person.”
Her attorney said the dishonourable discharge had “crippled” James.
“This is really so she’s not treated as a second-class citizen anymore,” said attorney J. Cecilia Kim.