Technical Sergeant Leonard P. Matlovich

Matlovich_time_cover.jpgTechnical Sergeant Leonard P. Matlovich was born on July 6, 1943, in Savannah, GA. He was a Vietnam War veteran, race relations instructor, and recipient of the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. Matlovich was the first gay service member to purposely out himself to the military to fight the ban on homosexuals.

n March 1974, Matlovich read an interview in the Air Force Times with gay activist Frank Kameny who had counseled several gays in the military over the years. He contacted Kameny in Washington, D.C. 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. After several months of dialogue with Kameny and ACLU attorney David Addlestone, Matlovich hand-delivered a letter to his Langley AFB commanding officer on March 6, 1975. The gay community rallied around his fight to stay in the United States Air Force after coming out of the closet. His case resulted in articles in newspapers and magazines throughout the country, numerous television interviews, and a television movie on NBC. Matlovich became the first openly gay person to appear on the cover of a U.S. newsmagazine when his photograph appeared on the cover of Time magazine on 8 September, 1975.

During Matlovich’s September 1975 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. He refused. Despite his high performance evaluations, and exemplary service record, 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. The Secretary of the Air Force agreed, confirming Matlovich's discharge in October 1975. Matlovich sued for reinstatement, the case moved back and forth between United States District and Circuit Courts. By September 1980, the Air Force had failed to provide US District Court an explanation of why Matlovich did not meet their criteria for exception, the court ordered him reinstated into the Air Force and promoted. The Air Force offered Matlovich a financial settlement instead, and  Matlovich accepted.

Matlovich helped lead campaigns against Anita Bryant's effort in Miami, Florida, to overturn a gay nondiscrimination ordinance and John Briggs' attempt to ban gay teachers in California.  On June 22, 1988, less than a month before his 45th birthday, Matlovich died in Los Angeles of complications from HIV/AIDS beneath a large photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. 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 is in the same row as that of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover

LGBT History Month celebrates the achievements of many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who have contributed significantly in several ways to the advancement of our community. Limited by the number of days on the calendar, showcasing every individual who has made a major impact would be difficult. Yet, across decades and eras, revolutions and wars, and discovery and enlightenment, SPART*A honors past and present LGBT figures in our history this month.


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