—Helen Grace James, 90, speaking to NBC News about her “general discharge under honorable conditions” being upgraded to an honorable discharge on Tuesday. Back in 1955, James was outed as a lesbian while stationed at Roslyn Air Force Base on East Hills, N.Y. Her superiors threatened to out her to her parents if she didn’t leave the service. Over 60 years later, she successfully sued to have her status upgraded to “honorable discharge.”
“The Air Force recognizes me as a full person in the military,” she said, having done “my job helping to take care of the country I love.”
“Helen is thrilled and we are happy that the Air Force has corrected at least a part of the injustice that was done to Helen (and other LGBT service members) over 62 years ago,” James’ attorney, J. Cacilia Kim, of Legal Aid at Work, told The Washington Post. “Helen will finally be properly recognized for her honorable service to our country.”
When “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed in 2011, the military did not immediately upgrade discharge statuses. Air Force spokesperson Kathleen Atanasoff says that an individual historical review of each file must be done before the discharge can be changed, which is time-consuming.
“The Board of Military Corrections is dedicated to tackling this through increasing efficiencies in their process and finding ways to expedite the process as much as possible,” Atanasoff wrote in an email to NBC News.
Regardless, James says the new title holds symbolic value for her.
“It will make me feel like I’ve done all I can to prove I am a good person,” she said, “and that I deserve to be a whole civilian in this country I love.”
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