Kicked Out of Air Force for being Gay, Woman Receives Honorable Discharge Sixty Years Later
In an article posted by The Washington Post, California native Helen Grace James finally won her honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force this week — at the age of 90 — after being kicked out sixty years ago for being a lesbian.
In 1952, James enlisted in the Air Force, believing a career in the armed forces was "important." She had a great record while there and was even promoted to Airman 2nd Class.
But by 1955, things changed. The Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations was supposedly on the hunt for gay and lesbian service members in what would later be known as the Lavender Scare.
James and two other lesbians at the base began to suspect their rooms were being searched and they were being followed off base. Then all three were arrested, interrogated for hours, and James was even threatened if she did not come out.
Even though James served her country with distinction, she received no severance pay or veterans' health care coverage. But that didn't stop her. James worked her way to advanced degrees in physical therapy from the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford, and went on to have a successful career.
Still, James knew she deserved better treatment from the Air Force, and at the age of 90, made the decision to sue them.
This week, James’s attorney received word the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records has agreed to change her status to "honorable."
"The Air Force recognizes me as a full person in the military," she told NBC this week of her honorable discharge, after doing "my job helping to take care of the country I love."
Congratulations, Helen, and thank you for your service!