Helen Grace James, now 90-years-old, has decided to take a stand, filing a lawsuit to get her discharge upgraded to honourable.
Mathew Whitehead

15 Jan 2018 - 4:58 PM  UPDATED 15 Jan 2018 - 4:58 PM

A California woman who was dishonourably discharged from the air force in 1955 under suspicion of being a lesbian is fighting back 60 years later. Helen Grace James, now 90-years-old, has decided to take a stand, filing a lawsuit to get her discharge upgraded to honourable.

James found herself one of the victims of the Lavender scare, a chapter in American history where the paranoia of McCarthyism saw gay men and lesbians labelled as "security risks". Because of this belief, queer people were targeted and mass firings occurred throughout the '50s from the US government.

The first anti-gay sentiments in the military actually started to surface in the early '40s, with military psychologists diagnosing homosexuality as a "psychopathic personality disorder". The Lavender scare simply added to this hysteria, alluding to the idea that gay men and lesbians were mentally weaker and therefore a risk if the enemy was to capture them.

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The anti-LGBT rhetoric that became institutionalised during McCarthyism hung around for years in forms of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", and even more recently with Trump's threats to ban trans people from serving.

Now, a feature in the Washington Post brings James' story to life as she reveals the circumstances of her discharge from service. 

James and another female service member went to get dinner together one evening, but upon finding the restaurant full, drove out to a quiet spot with the intent to have a meal in the car. As they did, they were sprung by Air Police who had followed them from the base.

A few days later James was arrested, interrogated and humiliated so severely she was physically ill. After all that, she was dishonourably discharged from service.

Now, 60 years later, James recounts how she was first drawn to the Air Force when she was 25. "I loved the marching," she told the Washington Post, "I loved the regimentation. It was exciting".

James has requested her records be corrected, however, according to the Air Force her documents were lost in a fire back in the '70s. While the upgrade to "honourable discharge" would give her access to benefits for other veterans, the decision to file her suit is more about finally getting the recognition that was unfairly taken from her more than 60 years ago. 

You can read the full profile of Helen Grace James here.

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