90 Year-Old Lesbian Sues Air Force Over 1955 Ouster

The Air Force Times reports:

Airman Second Class Helen Grace James wanted to follow in the footsteps of her father and her great-grandfather and serve in her country’s military. But her service was cut short after she was investigated, interrogated and then given an “undesirable” discharge from the Air Force because she was a lesbian, the Washington Post reported. Now, more than 60 years later, she is suing the Air Force.

James, now 90, joined the military in 1952 as a radio operator. On a Friday night in 1955, James and another female service member were followed by police from the base as they went to dinner, the Post reported. Within days, James was arrested, and, after a lengthy interrogation described by the Post as “humiliating,” she received an “undesirable discharge” on March 3, 1955.

For more about this time in American/LGBT history, look up the “Lavender Scare.”

  • Skeptical_Inquirer

    Good, I hope she succeeds. Also, she looks great for 90.

    • Scout

      She does!

      • Xaca

        She looks good period. Wish I were a lesbian.

    • GayOldLady

      She’s a very good lookin old gal.

      • TuuxKabin

        Indeed!

        • GayOldLady

          I showed her pic to my darlin and she said “honey, she looks a little like an older version of you”. That’s why I put she’s a good lookin old gal, to make myself feel better.

          • TuuxKabin

            Well, honest, she put me in mind of that photo you sent me. Really good looking, and handsome woman. Both youse. I think women can be handsome, just like men can be pretty.

  • fuzzybits

    Go on,Ms. James.

  • ColdCountry

    GOOD! I hope she gets justice.

  • fuzzybits
  • Blake J Butler
  • Scout

    Good for her!

  • another_steve

    Love to her. For her contribution and her courage.

    Remembering, now, Frank Kameny, an early fighter for justice.
    —————-

    “In 1957, Kameny was dismissed from his position as an astronomer in the U.S. Army’s Army Map Service in Washington, D.C. because of his homosexuality, leading him to begin “a Herculean struggle with the American establishment” that would “spearhead a new period of militancy in the homosexual rights movement of the early 1960s”.

    Kameny formally appealed his firing by the U.S. Civil Service Commission due to homosexuality. Although unsuccessful, the proceeding was notable as the first known civil rights claim based on sexual orientation pursued in a U.S. court.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Kameny

    • Joe in PA

      I met Frank in the late 90s/early 20s…at a dinner some friends hosted. He was talking about how much ‘tang he got because of his celebrity status. Work it Frank, work it!

      We offered to come pick him up, but he insisted on driving (an ancient Ford Escort). Fascinating guy.

      • Acronym Jim

        ‘tang or Tang?

        • Bohunk

          like in poontang

      • another_steve

        I have this visual memory of Frank that I cherish. It was at one of D.C. Pride’s outdoor June street fairs, not many years before he passed away. Frank was seated at the side of an organization’s table. The people in charge of the table had stepped away for a moment, leaving Frank by himself. Just sitting there, watching the crowd go by.

        So I’m thinking to myself at the time, here is this pioneer of our movement – one of the brave and courageous people who paved the way for the modern post-Stonewall movement – just sitting there. Alone. Watching the crowd go by.

        I bet most of the young people strolling by had no idea who he was. This icon. This hero.

        Rest in peace, dear Frank.

        • skyweaver

          I can’t imagine coming out during a time when nobody really was doing that much. Much less challenging the federal government for dismissing him for being gay.

  • Treant

    I’m a little surprised that, as of the end of DADT, those who were discharged solely on these charges weren’t automatically flipped over to honorable discharge (or at least had their dishonorable discharges canceled).

    Other multiple-charge discharges would have to be reviewed, of course, but at the very least, this should be stripped from their records.

    • Mark_in_MN

      A discharge should be simply a discharge regardless of reason.

      • Friday

        There’s real good reasons for that not to be the case, actually. THe problem is they classified ‘Being LGBT’ as one of those reasons.

        • Mark_in_MN

          I disagree. i don’t see any good reasons to do anything than simply doing the paperwork to indicate that the person no longer serves in the military. If there are good reasons to limit access to certain benefits after service (I would need to be persuaded that there are) then particular benefits can have qualifying or disqualifying criteria appropriate to those benefits, rather than hinging them on something as broad and unspecific (and potentially arbitrary) as what bureaucratic category the discharge was placed under.

          • Bohunk

            Currently being done. I received an UD in late ’63. I was able to get it updated in ’16 to a general under honorable. However, I was not eligible for the pension because I was discharged 8 months before the pension would’ve kicked in. Had I been able to stay in through the remainder of my enlistment, I would have been covered. Ergo, I am suing on those grounds.

          • Friday

            Namely, that you need military discipline and justice when a military has that much power involved at various levels, people would abuse that more or otherwise screw things up if the worst consequence would be ‘leaving the military and getting around consequences.’

            That’s why all this DADT stuff and worse was such an injustice.

      • coram nobis

        Worth noting that Chelsea Manning still carries a dishonorable discharge, part of her court-martial sentence and not altered by Obama’s commutation, as far as I’ve been able to find out.

    • lymis

      I certainly agree that they SHOULD have. Even without things like back pay and damages, access to things like VA home loans and VA healthcare could have made a huge difference for a lot of people. And a dishonorable discharge makes you ineligible for a lot of jobs.

      I think the “logic” was that people who knowingly violated the policy when it was in place “knew what they signed up for” and that a change to the policy only affected people going forward.

      The policy was changed as a policy, rather than as a Supreme Court ruling that ever having had the policy was unconstitutional in the first place. (Which it should have been.)

      • coram nobis

        Agreed that they should have. Trouble is, DADT repeal had to do with present and future personnel as a matter of policy. Retroactive upgrading of discharges is a separate (and cumbersome bureaucratic) process, and doesn’t address the individual damage that each person suffered over the years. First thing a lot of civilian employers, from 1945 on, would ask for was your discharge papers or DD-214 form, and anything other than an honorable discharge would blight your prospects, and a lot of civilian jobs also required a security clearance, so forget it if you had this kind of discharge.

        It was also true, BTW, even for honorable discharges. DD-214s often had a code, a Separation Personnel Number (or SPN, “spin”) that included notations for anything from bedwetting to homosexuality — and every HR department would have had a list of those codes. An awful lot of Vietnam-era vets would have had “bad paper” for various reasons and spent years trying to upgrade.

  • Phil2u

    You go, girl !

  • Blake J Butler
    • Treant

      The proper response is to shoot the finger at any conservative and go back to what you’re doing. If they persist, point out that they’re the one politicizing it at the moment, so they can go fuck off. If they still keep on, launch a string of invective that can turn the surrounding air light blue as the argon ionizes.

      • FancyThat

        Daaannng. That argon stuff sounds kinda sciencey. That’s a good idea to talk in code on here so the trollers can’t figure anything out. Affle-bay uh-thay Ooney-lay Astards-bay. 🙂

        • Nowhereman

          Yeah, but science is from the pits of hell, isn’t it?

          • FancyThat

            If you look at science for too long you can go blind.

          • Nowhereman

            Probably makes you palms hairy, too.

    • Nowhereman

      The man’s entire life and death were political. I mean what the hell is wrong with Fox? Oh wait, for a minute there I thought of them as a news outlet.

  • Bambino

    I am 90. I am a vet. I am a lesbian. Those homophobes born after me ought to shut the fuck up!

    • TuuxKabin

      You’re speaking for Helen Grace, Bambino? Correct? Because I find that astounding if ‘speaking’ personally.

  • Blake J Butler

    BTW he has an actual gofundme account for the tv he broke, punched it, threw it a it off a balcony, all because his team lost.

    https://twitter.com/cmclymer/status/952769924111486981

    • Rebecca Gardner

      Good for him. The night my ex’s team lost he beat me almost to death and the crime scene photographer told me she never photographed anyone as injured as me. Better a TV than his spouse/girlfriend.

      Football season is a very scary time of year.

      • Prost Seattle

        No woman should ever go through that. My heart weeps that you experienced that.

      • Harveyrabbit

        When I saw that clip earlier today on another site I thought to myself that his girlfriend is fortunate he didn’t take it out on her. I’m sorry you went through that. I hope he went to prison for a long time.

    • Rebecca Gardner
    • Skeptical_Inquirer

      Those millions of men just want only one emotion: cheerful submission. I anticipate the day a Real Doll can make any sort of food, those millions of men will never leave their basement man cave.

  • Ragnar Lothbrok

    Deserving of all of the benefits & respect she is entitled to.
    You go Helen !

  • That_Looks_Delicious

    OT – Just read a science article that blew my mind and gotta share.

    We’ve known for a long time that possibly as much as 90% of the Native American population died of disease after they were first exposed to Europeans, but nobody knew for sure what that disease was. The Aztecs called the epidemic cocoluztli. Many have speculated that it was smallpox or measles.

    Well, a team of scientists has just finished extensive DNA tests on findings at an archeological dig in Yucundaa-Teposcolula, Mexico with latest technology, and they’re pretty sure now it was….. Salmonella!

    I was not expecting that. (I guess this means salmonella didn’t exist in America before 1492?)

    • Treant

      That does seem…odd. I’d want confirmation as I can’t imagine that Salmonella would have had trouble crossing the land bridge from Asia initially.

      • Tawreos

        It could be a different and stronger strain than the local variety which could cause a lot of problems.

        • Treant

          True, but given the mode of infection (hand to mouth, pretty much, in terms of undercooked or infected foods), it seems unlikely to go epidemic even in societies that completely lack any sanitation standards. While the Spanish weren’t great, and neither were the Aztecs, neither were quite so bad as to cause that. 🙂

          • That_Looks_Delicious

            It could be a type of salmonella that we don’t even notice today because we’ve all inherited immunity.

    • Lazycrockett

      NPR said 95% of Natives were wiped out. That is the highest I have ever heard usually its 75 to 80%.

      • That_Looks_Delicious

        The problem is nobody knows how many Native Americans there were before the plagues. They know that after the 1576 outbreak (which was one of the two worst of the six outbreaks along with the one in 1545), there was a census and there were about 2 million remaining. But population estimates for before the outbreaks vary from 15 to 30 million.

        • Lazycrockett

          Well the trade routes alone go from southern South America to Canada. East to West through out North America. Clovis Points are found through out and the stone was only native to Eastern North America.

      • jerry

        In North America, the estimates have the population at around 20 million around 1600, larger than the population of Europe. Shortly after, a plague moved up the east coast and wiped out the communities, then spread westward. Previous to the Pilgrims, no European settlement, including the Vikings, were able to remain established–the natives would wipe them out. By 1620, there was estimated to only be around 2 million natives left–not enough to defend themselves against the European invasion.

      • thatotherjean

        I remember the 95% figure being cited in one of my anthro classes for the Native American population of the East Coast of the US, as one of the reasons the settlers of Jamestown didn’t meet with much resistance, until they started trying to lord it over and steal from the natives who were helping them stay alive. But the idea that what killed them might have been salmonella blows my mind. It would be blown a bit further, though, if I hadn’t developed dysentery in Mexico some years ago, from Salmonella. I can definitely understand how people could die from that.

    • lymis

      While this is interesting, and scientific and all, it doesn’t change the fact that smallpox and other infectious diseases at least helped kill off huge numbers of Native Americans.

  • William

    She should have applied for this while Obama was president.

  • Blake J Butler
  • Rebecca Gardner

    Good for her!!!

  • JWC

    good for her,,,Never too late

  • Rebecca Gardner

    OT but totally not surprised by the fucking corruption of the RepubliCON party.

    https://twitter.com/AltUSPressSec/status/952816957392412673

    • Skeptical_Inquirer

      By doing this, they drive away any and all people with any kind of standards.

      • Treant

        In some cases, that’s a good thing. Once you’re sure the system is thoroughly corrupt, you don’t have to mind your strikes particularly well. You know you’re going to hit a guilty person.

    • Nowhereman

      Shouldn’t we be investigating Boy Howdy instead of Hillary? He really is a piece of work. And I want all these payouts–political and sexual–brought out in the open, and then I want the perpetraitors to pay us back for every single dime of tax money they spent on the sham investigations and the payouts.

    • Jim Gallagher-Barker

      Hence the resignation from the (Lack of) Ethics Committee. He’d proven his bona fides.

    • JCF

      And there’s the Next Shoe. KICK HIM OUT!!!!!

      dccc.org

  • Hue-Man

    I’m reading a biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I was completely ignorant about the gay witch hunt he started as Assistant Secretary of the Navy and later denied. Here’s Daily Beast:

    Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Forgotten Anti-Gay Sex Crusade
    The Newport Sex Scandal of 1919 targeted men having sex with men in the Navy, prefiguring the legalized persecution of LGBT citizens in and out of the armed services.

    Thus, politically motivated, Roosevelt had no compunctions about
    ordering a hidden and undercover investigation to uproot the conditions of vice (homosexuality) and depravity (homosexual acts) that existed in Newport.

    https://www.thedailybeast.com/franklin-d-roosevelts-forgotten-anti-gay-sex-crusade

    • olandp

      It is never fair to judge the past by the standards of today. FDR was a product of his times and may have had different views if he had been born 100 years later, we will never know.

      • Hue-Man

        I agree with you. What’s troubling is that he apparently wasn’t particularly “homophobic” in his personal life but initiated the gay witch hunt as a way to gain votes – he wasn’t some remote bureaucrat who approved a seedy anti-gay operation. He provided the blueprint for subsequent gay purges in the U.S. and other countries.

        In contrast, I’ve been reading about Woodrow Wilson, a real racist who re-segregated the American civil service. I suspect he would be just as racist in the 21st century! The Atlantic:

        As president, Wilson oversaw unprecedented segregation in federal offices. It’s a shameful side to his legacy that came to a head one fall
        afternoon in 1914 when he threw the civil-rights leader William Monroe
        Trotter out of the Oval Office.

        https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/11/wilson-legacy-racism/417549/

    • coram nobis

      A lot of the scandal was not over the gay men as such but the fact that FDR and the Navy were deploying decoys, young men and boys to gather evidence, including having sex. Pimping out young men was something an Assistant Secretary was not supposed to be doing, it seems.

      http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/l/loughery-silence.html

  • bkmn

    Give them hell Helen!

  • Mark McGovern

    This is what really pisses me off. In fact hundreds of thousands of LGBT have been fired, jailed, humiliated, beaten, evicted, killed over the years. Meanwhile, poor pussy baker has to make a cake and takes it all the way to the Supreme fucking court.

    Good for Grace James! And at age 90! Another hero for us all to look up to.

  • Lazycrockett
    • GanymedeRenard

      Whaaaaattt???? Noooo!!!! :`(

    • Rebecca Gardner

      WHAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      OMG so sad. I love the Cranberries and I love her voice.

    • DaddyRay

      So young 🙁

    • Rebecca Gardner
      • Bride of Trump

        Zombie.

  • GayOldLady

    My Shero!

  • GanymedeRenard

    Go for it, lady! Not a step back in reclaiming your honor!

  • Paula

    Fry the bastards, Helen!

    • Blake Mason

      I would like to recommend the video I just posted.

  • Blake Mason

    Recommended Watching:

    Especially the part about how to recognize a lesbian in the Navy

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOn9grCVO7c

    • Treant

      Amazing.

      Also, does Simon do any shirt-off shows? Asking for a friend.

      • Blake Mason

        There might just be a video of him doing that… can’t remember which one.

    • JW Swift

      I was, personally, investigated by NIS for being gay, back in ’78 or ’79, even though I wasn’t in the military at all. My father, however, was in the Navy, and we lived on military bases as I was growing up.

      In my mid-to-late teens, as I began grappling with my sexuality, I got invited back to someone’s barracks and we did start to fool around. Unfortunately, the roommate of the guy woke up and caught us. The guy who’d invited me back suddenly played drunk and half-asleep, and tried to play it off like I was the one taking advantage of him, (when it was far closer to the other way around), so when he got reported by the roommate, they came to interview me and investigate the claim that I was the one taking advantage of the military guy (so that the one trying to seduce me could claim that he wasn’t actually gay, that he was instead drunk and I was trying to take advantage of him). They couldn’t exactly prosecute me for simply being gay, but if they could have proven that I was actually taking advantage of the military guy, then I could have gotten in some serious trouble with the local, non-military authorities.

      As it turned out, it came down to his word against mine, and they didn’t try to pursue anything further with me (other than a second interview and a request to take a lie-detector test, as they claimed, to better shore-up my case that I was telling them the truth and, I think, to give them more ammunition to go after the military guy that had seduced me), so I’m guessing that it ultimately got dropped, although I do think that they did inform my father about it. Needless to say, it was a scary couple of month period in my life.

  • BeaverTales

    I remember once being interviewed by the FBI about a high school friend of mine who used me as a character reference for a security clearance before attending DLI in Monterey. I was a college freshman in the mid-late 1980s. They asked me the usual stuff about criminal record, political leanings and drug use. The only question they asked about his sex life was if he was gay or bi (he was straight).

    That experience made me avoid jobs requiring a security clearance, because I knew most of my friends suspected I was gay, even though I didn’t come out of the closet until grad school. I wonder how many gay people never took certain jobs in Government out of the same fear of being outed?

    • coram nobis

      A lot. Simply getting found out on a background check or application could ruin any career you had. Not worth the risk.

      • BeaverTales

        I wonder who first suggested gays were a threat to national security? Was it because we were supposedly more susceptible to blackmail to stay closeted?

        If so, then why weren’t they quizzing heterosexuals about extramarital affairs for the same reason?

        • coram nobis

          According to Shilts, and also according to LGBT historian Allen Bérubé, Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two, it started with the WWII mass mobilization and quack psychiatric theories about unit cohesion and LGBT people.

          The McCarthy period may have mingled it with postwar hysteria about communists in government (see, e.g., The Lavender Scare, by David Johnson).

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lavender_scare

          • BeaverTales

            My dad once confessed to me that he experimented with gay sex as a teenager because girls were verboten due to pregnancy risk, and were more closely watched than boys were. He said there was gay sex in the barracks and everyone knew who the queers were. He said they were usually excellent soldiers and stayed out of trouble. No one was worried about unit cohesion as long as they kept their hands to themselves.

            He had a 20 year military career and got several awards for distinguished service. Apparently, homosexual acts were okay, as long as you didn’t identify as a homosexual

          • coram nobis

            Or unless you were caught at it, or named in a witch hunt.

    • jerry

      It really depended on what type of federal job you were applying for. Any defense contractor or high military clearance would ask everything. Most clerical-type jobs, they were mainly interested in any possible criminal activity. I worked for Treasury, Public Debt for four years right out of college in late 1980’s.

  • coram nobis

    Some suggested background reading:

    Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the US Military, by Randy Shilts. Shilts noted, among other things, that the Baron von Steuben, a key figure in founding the US Army, was himself gay.

    There’s other distinguished books on the history of LGBT people in the US military, about WWII or the time when DADT was up for debate, but this one was probably the widest in scope.

    • Blake Mason

      Thanks… I just posted a vid in the comments that has a bit of humor regarding “the hunt”.

  • Kissmagrits

    For five years, Senator Joseph McCarthy cast his net for traitors and queers with devastating, long-lasting results.
    In 1959, I witnessed the dishonorable discharge of 22 women in my naval training command and, at that point, it became evident that due process was only for other people.

  • coram nobis

    And on a side note about how the US military used to operate, it being MLK Day today, it’s also worth remembering the Port Chicago incident. The US military segregated African-American personnel into menial work, including dock workers handling ammunition with little regard for their safety, and after 320 of them died in the explosion at Port Chicago, CA, in 1944, prosecuted — on charges of mutiny — the survivors who went on strike.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Chicago_disaster

  • HZ81

    Good on her.

  • coram nobis

    Another side note, via a hyperlink buried in Air Force Times page about Ms. James. It seems there was a squadron commander at McChord AFB who was causing considerable bad morale because of his disparagement of transgender personnel, his Christian proselytizing and disparagement of atheists.

    https://www.airforcetimes.com/news/your-air-force/2018/01/07/fired-air-force-commander-was-criticized-for-poor-morale-religious-talk/

    Times have changed: his superiors relieved him of command.

  • Natty Enquirer

    The Lavender Scare ran hand-in-hand with the Red Scare, assisted in no small measure by that big ol’ ‘mo, Roy Cohn. You know, Donald Trump’s mentor.

    • coram nobis

      Although it did spread throughout the country in that period. The “Boys of Boise” sodomy witch hunt in 1955 is one example, as is the Johns Committee in the Florida state legislature, which was still at it in 1964, and did considerable damage to Florida universities. It’s an ugly story, and one of the precursors of the Anita Bryant crusade.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_Legislative_Investigation_Committee

  • WitlessProtection

    I got mine reversed last year, I hope she gets hers as well. There is nothing more satisfying than having a blemish on one’s permanent record removed.

  • Ninja0980

    Not only do I hope she wins but I hope I can look that good when I make it to 90.

  • coram nobis

    While we’re reviewing past discharges, how about another look at the “personality disorder” discharges after 9/11 — 31,000 by one count? A PD discharge, an administrative process (not via, say, court-martial) meant ineligibility for subsequent financial or medical benefits, even if the servicemember had been badly wounded in the line of duty.

    http://www.usmedicine.com/agencies/department-of-defense-dod/servicemembers-lose-benefits-after-improper-discharges-for-alleged-personality-disorders/

    It was a convenient (and sordid) way for the military to avoid caring for a lot of wounded vets.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/25/us/a-military-diagnosis-personality-disorder-is-challenged.html

  • Lindoro Almaviva

    The government is best advise never to underestimate a mature woman. Rosa Parks and Eddie Windsor should be exhibit A and B on a long list of mature women that were treated like little old ladies and they proved they can be better dragon slayers than 100 ninjas.

  • Tor

    Yay! Another hero to look up to. A little good news today. I hope she wins big time.

  • SoCalVet

    The reason they gave for kicking us LGBT people out of the military for so many years? That we were susceptible to blackmail. You know, just like the fucking pResident is now. Makes my blood boil.

  • leastyebejudged

    Arrested. For going to dinner.

    Just remember that veterans did this to her. And given the opportunity, they’d keep doing it.

  • LesbianTippingHabits


    A legitimate question:

    Why hasn’t The Lavender Scare been shown in Washington, D.C.?

  • anne marie in philly

    GO SISTER GO! you were screwed over (and not in a nice way)!

  • FelineMama

    My cousin was a Major , nurse, & lesbian in the AF around this same time.She, also, was discharged. I wish she was still here. She would have joined Ms. James in this fight!! SOOOO UNFAIR!!!

  • JCF

    I know that under Obama, LGBTs seeking discharge changes (from dishonorable to honorable), at least, were streamlined. God only knows if that process continues under Drumpf…

  • Ann Kah

    Attagirl, Grace!

  • Terry

    I hope she succeeds!