On Nov. 8, 2016, the U.S. experienced the culmination of a presidential election that left a segment of the country - especially historically marginalized groups - feeling anxious and afraid. Gay Air Force veteran Ed Spires, who turned 91 years old that day, felt it was another addition to a series of unhappy events. He was recovering from a severe bout of pneumonia that had sent him to the hospital, and he'd recently learned that, despite efforts by LGBTQ advocacy organization Stonewall Columbus, he was still being denied an honorable military discharge.

On Nov. 8, 2016, the U.S. experienced the culmination of a presidential election that left a segment of the country - especially historically marginalized groups - feeling anxious and afraid. Gay Air Force veteran Ed Spires, who turned 91 years old that day, felt it was another addition to a series of unhappy events. He was recovering from a severe bout of pneumonia that had sent him to the hospital, and he'd recently learned that, despite efforts by LGBTQ advocacy organization Stonewall Columbus, he was still being denied an honorable military discharge.

"Everything is so mind-blowingly bad that I don't know what to expect from now on," Spires said in a mid-November phone interview.

Since then, there has been a hopeful turn of events for the Lancaster native, who received an "undesirable discharge" in 1948 for an accusation of homosexuality. On Nov. 18, Spires, who now lives in Connecticut, filed a federal lawsuit against the Air Force, seeking an upgraded, honorable discharge. Yale Law School's Veterans Legal Services Clinic is providing counsel, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) is publicly supporting Spires' efforts.

Like many other gay veterans, Spires was motivated to request his honorable discharge following the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which lifted the ban on openly gay servicemen and women in 2010. However, his 2014 application to the Air Force Review Board was denied due to lack of records.

"One of the big problems with the older veterans before 1970, generally speaking, is that very often the archives in the military have lost their records," said Lori Gum, who administrates the LGBTQ Veterans Discharge Review Program at Stonewall.

According to the lawsuit, the Air Force told Spires a 1973 fire was to blame for its loss of his records.

And unfortunately, Spires is one of many other elderly, dishonorably discharged LGBTQ veterans - especially those who served in the 1940s, '50s and '60s - who burned their DD 214 discharge forms, Gum said.

"[The] last thing they wanted to do was have an employer … or a family member find that," Gum said.

Spires sought the help of Stonewall Columbus after learning of the organization's success with Columbus veteran Donald Hallman. Though the military couldn't find Hallman's DD 214, it was able to produce his certificate of military service, among other records, which he then used to secure his honorable discharge five months before his June 2016 death at age 83. As a result, he was allowed to have a traditional military funeral.

"His memorial service had a flag-folding ceremony and taps played," Gum said. "So he was honored as a soldier."

Last December, Gum helped Spires secure his certificate of military service by presenting four old pictures of Spires in his military uniform. Then she helped him with the application for a correction of military records, which requires veterans to write a narrative of their experience.

"I had to dredge up this whole horrible picture again from my early life," Spires said.

Spires enlisted in the Air Force in 1946 at age 20. After basic training, he was stationed at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, as a chaplain's assistant. Spires became friends with other chaplain's assistants who were gay, and who knew he was gay. "But we never said it publicly," he said.

"I went into the city of San Antonio, where I had a good number of gay friends," he said. "Anything I did [that was] gay-related was done off the base."

Another solider found out about Spires' attendance at one of those off-base events - a Halloween costume party - and reported the accusation of Spires' homosexuality back to their superior. A painful interrogation and hearing followed. Spires also claimed he was verbally threatened by other soldiers. Gum said she has heard even worse stories from other vets who were similarly "outed" to their units.

"That outing … has created an atmosphere of hate and some [cases] have been military sexual assaults," she said.

"I had to be my own defense attorney," Spires said of the trial. "I had no one to advise me how to get through this."

Spires also mentioned the chaplain he worked for was called as a witness, but was not asked any questions about Spires' character.

"They didn't ask him was I a good soldier? Was I a good chaplain's assistant? Did I ever misbehave on campus? Questions that would have allowed him to say what he thought of me as a person," Spires said.

"I served honorably in the Air Force," continued Spires, who had been promoted to corporal sergeant. "I didn't do anything to discredit the Air Force."

Spires was discharged in 1948, but he was resolved to explore his legal options outside of the military. However, a friend in an Ohio county court advised Spires to destroy the discharge document, calling it "a direct indictment."

"So I burned it," Spires said. "On New Year's Eve … I was visiting this friend of mine who had a country cottage. … The fireplace was roaring and I threw it all in the fire."

Spires returned home to Lancaster, telling his family he'd been discharged for medical reasons. "At that time my older brother was being married," Spires said. "The wedding took the onus off me. People talked about the wedding; they didn't talk about why Ed got out of the Air Force."

Spires went on to have a successful career doing display work for Lazarus in Columbus and then Bloomingdale's in New York before starting his own antique business, Fabulous Fakes. Afterward, he created set designs for theater productions. He also lived openly with his partner of nearly 60 years, David Rosenberg, whom he married in 2009.

"I know his family knew he was gay eventually but … never knew he was dishonorably discharged from the military," Gum said. "That just shows you the burden of shame that these veterans carry with them."

When Gum submitted Spires' application to the Air Force Review Board in early 2016, she was told it would take about a year to get a decision. When Spires fell ill in October, she pressed for an answer, only to be denied. While the certificate of military service was sufficient proof for Hallman, an Army vet, it was not enough information for the Air Force.

Spires' lawsuit could not only grant an honorable discharge for him, but it may set a precedent for other gay veterans to more easily obtain their upgrades despite missing discharge documents. That would be significant, said Gum, because the Restore Honor to Service Members Act - which would require military review boards to upgrade all dishonorable discharges based on sexual orientation- is stalled in Congress at the committee level.

According to Gum, only time will tell if the current political landscape will prove challenging for LGBTQ vets.

"Our community's watching and they're frightened, so we have to make sure that we stick to the facts and make sure that we're not scaring them more," Gum said. "That isn't to say that we shouldn't talk about dangers if they come, but there's no reason for us to speculate. … We're gonna take it one day at a time, we're gonna prepare ourselves [and] be the strong community we are."

As Spires awaits next steps, Gum believes he has already, in a sense, succeeded.

"David and Ed still thrived and they found love and made a wonderful life for themselves and I think those are the stories of courage," Gum said. "It isn't always just those that work … in the public forum, it is these quiet little lives where they live authentically. … If that isn't an act of resistance, I don't know what is."