Let us remember all the gays, lesbians and bisexuals who have worn the uniform of our country, bled and died for the freedoms we have not yet realized as second class citizens. Let us remember our pioneers who fought for integration and equality for our community. Let us remember gay veteran heroes like Leonard Matlovich:
More on Matlovich:
Born in Savannah, Georgia, 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. He considered himself a “flag-waving patriot,” but always regretted that for several years he maintained the racist attitudes he’d been exposed to as a child of the South. Not long after he enlisted, the United States increased military action in Vietnam, about ten years after the French had abandoned active colonial rule there. Matlovich volunteered for service in Vietnam and served three tours of duty. He was seriously wounded when he stepped on a land mine in Đà Nẵng.
Through his struggle accepting his sexual orientation, Matlovich eventually found the gay community and realized he was not alone.
While stationed in Florida near Fort Walton Beach, he began frequenting gay bars in nearby Pensacola. “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 1960’s and early 1970’s. 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.
More after the break.
I find it poignant after he successfully overcame his own racism taught to him by an intolerant southern American culture, he personally tried to make amends by making the military culture a safe place for African American soldiers.
In 1973, previously unaware of the organized gay movement, he 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 called Kameny in Washington DC and learned that Kameny had long been looking for a gay servicemember with a perfect record to create a test case to challenge the military’s ban on gays. About a year later, he called Kameny again, telling him that he might be the person. 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” – a reference to the 1954 landmark Supreme Court case outlawing racial segregation in public schools. For Matlovich, his test of the military’s ban on homosexuals would be equivalent to that case.
On June 22, 1988, just a month before his 45th birthday, Matlovich died 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 located on the same row as that of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.
Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett (Ret) says it best:
“The American Revolution continued in the fight of Sergeant Leonard Matlovich.”
Please stop and listen to the beautiful music at the web site in honor of Matlovich, and read the touching words there. (Try not to cry too much like I did):
Leonard Matlovich was the first to volunteer to fight the military’s ban on gays, a universal soldier in the fight against AIDS & for full LGBT equality in every arena. He was also a loving son, brother, uncle, friend, & “father” of untold numbers of lives lived out & proud.
Yes, Leonard Matlovich, is just one more good reason for President Obama to stop discharging openly gay and lesbian troops and then work to overturn “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” like he promised.
Be sure and watch the video of Matlovich at the beginning of this post. Not only does it cover the unfairness of not allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve but even back in 1987, he is already discussing how awful it is for other Americans who aren’t lucky enough to have health care.
A special thank you to Sean Chapin for recording and producing the videos at the Leonard Matlovich memorial site.