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Leonard Matlovich (July 6, 1943 – June 22, 1988)

Technical Sergeant Leonard P. Matlovich (July 6, 1943 – June 22, 1988) was a Vietnam War veteran, race relations instructor, and recipient of the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. 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 was the first gay service member to purposely out himself to the military to fight their ban on gays, and perhaps the best-known gay man in America in the 1970s next to Harvey Milk. His fight to stay in the United States Air Force after coming out 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. His photograph appeared on the cover of the September 8, 1975, issue of Time 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, "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 History Month as a leader in the history of the LGBT community.


AIDS Quilt











Before his death, Leonard donated his personal papers and memorabilia to the GLBT Historical Society, 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, the original executor of his estate and close friend, 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.

Matlovich's gravesite has been a site of attraction and ceremony for LGBT rights activists since his internment. Activists including Army Lt. Dan Choi, Army Staff Sergeant Miriam Ben-Shalom and members of GetEQUAL held a vigil at Matlovich's gravesite on November 10, 2010 before proceeding to chain themselves to the White House fence (and be subsequently arrested) to protest Don't ask, don't tell. Matlovich's tombstone at Congressional Cemetery is in the same row as that of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

Burial: Congressional Cemetery, Washington, District of Columbia, District Of Columbia, USA. Plot: Range 20, Site 161-162

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Matlovich

Further Readings:

Matlovich by Mike Hippler
Paperback: 187 pages
Publisher: Alyson Books; 1st U.S. Edition, June 1989 edition (July 1989)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 155583129X
ISBN-13: 978-1555831295
Amazon: Matlovich

In 1975, Air Force Sergeant Leonard Matlovich told his superiors that he was a homosexual, thus becoming the first person to challenge the military's antigay policies and the first openly gay person to appear on the cover of Time magazine. His case (won on narrow grounds) put him into the spotlight as gay spokesperson and hero, yet his conservative Goldwater politics made him a controversial figure and kept him estranged from the movement's leadership. Still, he remained active in the movement. Matlovich died of AIDS-related illnesses in 1988. This biography reads like an extended article in a Sunday newspaper magazine supplement, yet Matlovich's unique place in gay history will require most public libraries to purchase it. Pictures and index not seen.
- James E. Cook, Dayton & Montgomery Cty. P.L., Ohio

Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military by Randy Shilts
Paperback: 832 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (June 23, 2005)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0312342640
ISBN-13: 978-0312342647
Amazon: Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military

The definitive book on lesbians and gay men in the US military.

Randy Shilts, author of the classic documentary history of the AIDS epidemic And The Band Played On, was acclaimed for his ability to take epic histories and molding them into gripping, intimate narratives. Conduct Unbecoming, his groundbreaking exploration of lesbians and gays in the military, came out of hundreds of interviews conducted with servicepeople at all levels of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps and intense research uncovering thousands of documents resulting in a unique history of gays in the military as well as the persecution of gays in the military. Conduct Unbecoming will leave readers moved and imbued with a better understanding of the pressing situation in our nation's military.

Rebels, Rubyfruit, and Rhinestones: Queering Space in the Stonewall South by James T. Sears
Hardcover: 440 pages
Publisher: Rutgers University Press (July 30, 2001)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0813529646
ISBN-13: 978-0813529646
Amazon: Rebels, Rubyfruit, and Rhinestones: Queering Space in the Stonewall South

Hippie communes, lesbian publishing collectives, drag pageants, gay bars: these are the marginalized, collective, and personal histories to which Sears (Lonely Hunters) pays homage in his second volume of a projected multivolume work on queer Southern life. The Sixties and early Seventies were a turning point for queers as for other minorities, ending their isolation and making it possible for them to see themselves as communities and individuals with inherent civil rights. Think drag isn't political? Sears points out that it was a misdemeanor to wear "clothing belonging to the opposite sex" until the 1970s in some jurisdictions. While Sears's effort is commendable, this work is not an easy read, with innumerable names and details peppering a sprawling narrative. Nevertheless, this volume is recommended for large, specialized collections on LGBT life and Southern social history. Ina Rimpau, Newark P.L., NJ
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Tags: activist: leonard matlovich, gay classics
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