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Leonard Matlovich

Leonard Matlovich

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Technical Sergeant
Technical Sergeant
Technical Sergeant is the name of one current and two former enlisted ranks in the United States military.-United States Air Force:Technical Sergeant, or Tech Sergeant, is the sixth enlisted rank in the U.S. Air Force, just above Staff Sergeant and below Master Sergeant. A technical sergeant is...

 Leonard P. Matlovich (July 6, 1943 – June 22, 1988) was a Vietnam War
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

 veteran, race relations instructor, and recipient of the Purple Heart
Purple Heart
The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the President to those who have been wounded or killed while serving on or after April 5, 1917 with the U.S. military. The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor is located in New Windsor, New York...

 and the Bronze Star
Bronze Star Medal
The Bronze Star Medal is a United States Armed Forces individual military decoration that may be awarded for bravery, acts of merit, or meritorious service. As a medal it is awarded for merit, and with the "V" for valor device it is awarded for heroism. It is the fourth-highest combat award of the...

.

Matlovich was the first gay service member to fight the ban on gays in the military, and perhaps the best-known gay
Gay
Gay is a word that refers to a homosexual person, especially a homosexual male. For homosexual women the specific term is "lesbian"....

 man in America in the 1970s next to Harvey Milk
Harvey Milk
Harvey Bernard Milk was an American politician who became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors...

. His fight to stay in the United States Air Force
United States Air Force
The United States Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the American uniformed services. Initially part of the United States Army, the USAF was formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947 under the National Security Act of...

 after coming out
Coming out
Coming out is a figure of speech for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people's disclosure of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity....

 of the closet became a cause célèbre around which the gay community rallied. His case resulted in articles in newspapers and magazines throughout the country, numerous television interviews, and a television movie on NBC
NBC
The National Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network and former radio network headquartered in the GE Building in New York City's Rockefeller Center with additional major offices near Los Angeles and in Chicago...

. His photograph appeared on the cover of the September 8, 1975, issue of Time
Time (magazine)
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

magazine, making him a symbol for thousands of gay and lesbian servicemembers and gay people generally. Matlovich was the first openly gay person to appear on the cover of a U.S. newsmagazine. According to author Randy Shilts
Randy Shilts
Randy Shilts was a pioneering gay American journalist and author. He worked as a freelance reporter for both The Advocate and the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as for San Francisco Bay Area television stations....

, "It marked the first time the young gay movement had made the cover of a major newsweekly. To a movement still struggling for legitimacy, the event was a major turning point." In October 2006, Matlovich was honored by LGBT
LGBT
LGBT is an initialism that collectively refers to "lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender" people. In use since the 1990s, the term "LGBT" is an adaptation of the initialism "LGB", which itself started replacing the phrase "gay community" beginning in the mid-to-late 1980s, which many within the...

 History Month as a leader in the history of the LGBT community
Gay community
The gay community, or LGBT community, is a loosely defined grouping of LGBT and LGBT-supportive people, organizations and subcultures, united by a common culture and civil rights movements. These communities generally celebrate pride, diversity, individuality, and sexuality...

.

Early life and early career


Born in Savannah, Georgia
Savannah, Georgia
Savannah is the largest city and the county seat of Chatham County, in the U.S. state of Georgia. Established in 1733, the city of Savannah was the colonial capital of the Province of Georgia and later the first state capital of Georgia. Today Savannah is an industrial center and an important...

, he was the only son of a career Air Force sergeant. He spent his childhood living on military bases, primarily throughout the southern United States. Matlovich and his sister were raised in the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

. Not long after he enlisted at 19, the United States increased military action in Vietnam
Vietnam
Vietnam – sometimes spelled Viet Nam , officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea –...

, about ten years after the French
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 had abandoned active colonial rule there. Matlovich volunteered for service in Vietnam
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

 and served three tours of duty. He was seriously wounded when he stepped on a land mine in Đà Nẵng
Da Nang
Đà Nẵng , occasionally Danang, is a major port city in the South Central Coast of Vietnam, on the coast of the South China Sea at the mouth of the Han River. It is the commercial and educational center of Central Vietnam; its well-sheltered, easily accessible port and its location on the path of...

.

While stationed in Florida
Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

 near Fort Walton Beach, he began frequenting gay bars in nearby Pensacola
Pensacola
Pensacola is a city in the western part of the U.S. state of Florida.Pensacola may also refer to:* Pensacola people, a group of Native Americans* A number of places in the Florida:** Pensacola Bay** Pensacola Regional Airport...

. "I met a bank president, a gas station attendant - they were all homosexual," Matlovich commented in a later interview. When he was 30, he slept with another man for the first time. He "came out" to his friends, but continued to conceal the fact from his commanding officer. Having realized that the racism he'd grown up around was wrong, he volunteered to teach Air Force Race Relations classes, which had been created after several racial incidents in the military in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He became so successful that the Air Force sent him around the country to coach other instructors. Matlovich gradually came to believe that the discrimination faced by gays was similar to that faced by African Americans.

Activism


In March 1974, previously unaware of the organized gay movement, he read an interview in the Air Force Times
Air Force Times
Air Force Times is a weekly newspaper serving active, reserve and retired United States Air Force and Air National Guard personnel and their families, providing news, information and analysis as well as community and lifestyle features, educational supplements, and resource guides.Air Force Times...

 with gay activist Frank Kameny who had counseled several gays in the military over the years. He called Kameny in Washington DC and learned that Kameny had long been looking for a gay service member with a perfect record to create a test case to challenge the military's ban on gays. Four months later, he met with Kameny at the longtime activist's Washington DC home. After several months of discussion with Kameny and ACLU attorney David Addlestone during which they formulated a plan, he hand-delivered a letter to his Langley AFB commanding officer on March 6, 1975. When his commander asked, "What does this mean?" Matlovich replied, "It means Brown versus the Board of Education
Brown v. Board of Education
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 , was a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court that declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional. The decision overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 which...

" - a reference to the 1954 landmark Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 case outlawing racial segregation in public schools.

Perhaps the most painful aspect of the whole experience for Matlovich was his revelation to his parents. He told his mother by telephone. She was so stunned she refused to tell Matlovich's father. Her first reaction was that God was punishing her for something she had done, even if her Roman Catholic faith would have not sanctioned that notion. Then, she imagined that her son had not prayed enough or had not seen enough psychiatrists. She later admitted that she had suspected the truth for a long time. His father finally found out by reading it in the newspaper, after his challenge became public knowledge on Memorial Day
Memorial Day
Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the fallen Union soldiers of the Civil War...

 1975 through an article on the front page of The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

and that evening's CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Matlovich recalled, "He cried for about two hours." After that, he told his wife that, "If he can take it, I can take it."

Discharge and lawsuit


At that time, the Air Force had a unique exception clause that technically could allow gays to continue to serve under undefined circumstances. During his September 1975 administrative discharge hearing, an Air Force attorney asked him if he would sign a document pledging to "never practice homosexuality again" in exchange for being allowed to remain in the Air Force. Matlovich refused. Despite his exemplary military record, tours of duty in Vietnam, and high performance evaluations, the panel ruled Matlovich unfit for service and he was recommended for a General, or Less than Honorable, discharge. The base commander recommended that it be upgraded to Honorable and the Secretary of the Air Force agreed, confirming Matlovich's discharge in October 1975.

He sued for reinstatement, but the legal process was a long one, with the case moving back and forth between United States District and Circuit Courts. When, by September 1980, the Air Force had failed to provide US District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell an explanation of why Matlovich did not meet their criteria for exception (which by then had been eliminated but still could have applied to him), Gesell ordered him reinstated into the Air Force and promoted. The Air Force offered Matlovich a financial settlement instead, and convinced they would find some other reason to discharge him if he reentered the service, or the conservative US Supreme Court would rule against him should the Air Force appeal, Matlovich accepted. The figure, based on back pay, future pay, and pension was $160,000.

Excommunication


A converted Mormon
Mormon
The term Mormon most commonly denotes an adherent, practitioner, follower, or constituent of Mormonism, which is the largest branch of the Latter Day Saint movement in restorationist Christianity...

 and church elder when he lived in Hampton
Hampton, Virginia
Hampton is an independent city that is not part of any county in Southeast Virginia. Its population is 137,436. As one of the seven major cities that compose the Hampton Roads metropolitan area, it is on the southeastern end of the Virginia Peninsula. Located on the Hampton Roads Beltway, it hosts...

, Virginia
Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

, Matlovich found himself at odds with the Latter Day Saints and their opposition to homosexual behavior: he was twice excommunicated
Excommunication
Excommunication is a religious censure used to deprive, suspend or limit membership in a religious community. The word means putting [someone] out of communion. In some religions, excommunication includes spiritual condemnation of the member or group...

 by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for homosexual acts. He was first excommunicated on October 7, 1975, in Norfolk, Virginia
Norfolk, Virginia
Norfolk is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States. With a population of 242,803 as of the 2010 Census, it is Virginia's second-largest city behind neighboring Virginia Beach....

, and then again January 17, 1979, after his appearance on the Phil Donahue
Phil Donahue
Phillip John "Phil" Donahue is an American media personality, writer, and film producer best known as the creator and host of The Phil Donahue Show. The television program, also known as Donahue, was the first to use a talk show format. The show had a 26-year run on U.S...

 television show in 1978, without being rebaptized. But, by this time, Matlovich had stopped being a believer at all.

Settlement, later life and illness


From the moment his case was revealed to the public, he was repeatedly called upon by gay groups to help them with fund raising and advocating against anti-gay discrimination, helping lead campaigns against Anita Bryant
Anita Bryant
Anita Jane Bryant is an American singer, former Miss Oklahoma beauty pageant winner, and gay rights opponent. She scored four Top 40 hits in the United States in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including "Paper Roses", which reached #5...

's effort in Miami, Florida, to overturn a gay nondiscrimination ordinance and John Briggs
John Briggs (politician)
John V. Briggs is a retired California state politician who served in the California State Assembly and the California State Senate. He is perhaps best known for sponsoring Proposition 6 in 1978, also known as the Briggs Initiative, which attempted to remove all gay or lesbian school employees or...

' attempt to ban gay teachers in California. Sometimes he was criticized by individuals more to the left than he had become. “I think many gays are forced into liberal camps only because that’s where they can find the kind of support they need to function in society" Matlovich once noted. After being discharged, he moved from Virginia to Washington, D.C., and, in 1978, to San Francisco. In 1981, he moved to the Russian River
Russian River (California)
The Russian River, a southward-flowing river, drains of Sonoma and Mendocino counties in Northern California. With an annual average discharge of approximately , it is the second largest river flowing through the nine county Greater San Francisco Bay Area with a mainstem 110 miles ...

 town of Guerneville where he used the proceeds of his settlement to open a pizza restaurant.
With the outbreak of HIV/AIDS in the U.S. in the late 1970s, Leonard's personal life was caught up in the virus’ hysteria that peaked in the 1980s. He sold his Guerneville restaurant in 1984, moving to Europe for a few months. He returned briefly to Washington, D.C., in 1985 and, then, to San Francisco where he sold Ford
Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Company is an American multinational automaker based in Dearborn, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. The automaker was founded by Henry Ford and incorporated on June 16, 1903. In addition to the Ford and Lincoln brands, Ford also owns a small stake in Mazda in Japan and Aston Martin in the UK...

 cars and once again became heavily involved in gay rights causes and the fight for adequate HIV-AIDS education and treatment.

During the summer of 1986, Matlovich felt fatigued, then contracted a prolonged chest cold he seemed unable to shake. When he finally saw a physician in September of that year, he was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Too weak to continue his work at the Ford dealership, he was among the first to receive AZT
Zidovudine
Zidovudine or azidothymidine is a nucleoside analog reverse-transcriptase inhibitor , a type of antiretroviral drug used for the treatment of HIV/AIDS. It is an analog of thymidine....

 treatments, but his prognosis was not encouraging. He went on disability and became a champion for HIV/AIDS research for the disease which was claiming tens of thousands of lives in the Bay Area and nationally. He announced on Good Morning America
Good Morning America
Good Morning America is an American morning news and talk show that is broadcast on the ABC television network; it debuted on November 3, 1975. The weekday program airs for two hours; a third hour aired between 2007 and 2008 exclusively on ABC News Now...

in 1987 that he had contracted HIV, and was arrested with other demonstrators in front of the White House that June protesting what they believed was an inadequate response to HIV-AIDS by the administration of President Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....

.

Death


On June 22, 1988, less than a month before his 45th birthday, Matlovich died of complications from HIV/AIDS beneath a large photo of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American clergyman, activist, and prominent leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for being an iconic figure in the advancement of civil rights in the United States and around the world, using nonviolent methods following the...

 His tombstone, meant to be a memorial to all gay veterans, does not bear his name. It reads, “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.” Matlovich's tombstone at Congressional Cemetery
Congressional Cemetery
The Congressional Cemetery is a historic cemetery located at 1801 E Street, SE, in Washington, D.C., on the west bank of the Anacostia River. It is the final resting place of thousands of individuals who helped form the nation and the city of Washington in the early 19th century. Many members of...

 is on the same row as that of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover
J. Edgar Hoover
John Edgar Hoover was the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States. Appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation—predecessor to the FBI—in 1924, he was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935, where he remained director until his death in 1972...

.

Legacy


Not long after Matlovich's death in 1988, his estate donated his personal papers and memorabilia to the GLBT Historical Society
GLBT Historical Society
The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society maintains an extensive archive of materials relating to the history of LGBT people in the United States, with a focus on the LGBT communities of San Francisco and Northern California...

, a museum, archives and research center in San Francisco. The society has featured Matlovich's story in two exhibitions: "Out Ranks: GLBT Military Service From World War II to the Iraq War," which opened in June 2007 at the society's South of Market gallery space, and "Our Vast Queer Past: Celebrating San Francisco's GLBT History," which opened in January 2011 at the society's new GLBT History Museum in the Castro District.

In addition, San Francisco resident Michael Bedwell has created a website in honor of Matlovich and other gay U.S. veterans. The site includes a history of the ban on gays in the U.S. military both before and after its transformation into Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and illustrates the role that gay veterans fighting the ban played in the earliest development of the gay rights movement in the United States.

Literature and film

  • Castañeda, Laura and Susan B. Campbell. "No Longer Silent: Sgt. Leonard Matlovich and Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer." In News and Sexuality: Media Portraits of Diversity, 198-200. Sage, 2005, ISBN 1412909996.
  • Hippler, Mike. Matlovich: The Good Soldier, Alyson Publications Inc., 1989, ISBN 1-55583-129-X
  • Miller, Neil. "Leonard Matlovich: A Soldier's Story." In Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present, 411-414. Virginia: Vintage Books, 1995, ISBN 0679749888
  • Shilts, Randy. Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the US Military, Diane Publishing Company, 1993, ISBN 0-78815-416-8
  • Sergeant Matlovich vs. the U.S. Air Force, made-for-television dramatization directed by Paul Leaf, written by John McGreevey. Originally aired on NBC, August 21, 1978.

External links