Remember your roots, your history, and the forebears' shoulders on which you stand. - Marion Wright Edelman
THIS SITE is not just dedicated to the memory of Leonard Matlovich, but also to the untold numbers of gay men and women who served before him and since; and to those bisexual or transgender. It is meant to informthose unfamiliar with his life, and to inspire everyone to continue to fight to bring FULL equality to LGBs in the military now that the ban itself has finally been overturned, as well as to eliminate the ban on those transgender, and against every kind of persistent LGBT discrimination in whatever arena just as he did.
Why me? Leonard once told a writer to, "Call Michael, he'll remember." And, another time, when someone asked if we were lovers, he replied, "No, but no one knows me better than Michael." In 1975, I was one of those planning a gay awareness conference at Indiana University. We had already invited Massachusetts' state legislator Elaine Noble to speak, the first out gay elected to a major office. Gay activist and film historian Vito Russo was invited for his Celluloid Closet presentation, now a major documentary. But I had somehow missed Leonard's story until seeing him interviewed by Tom Snyder on his late-night NBC-TV program Tomorrow.
Leonard's natural gift for opening minds and hearts was immediately obvious, and we invited him to speak at our conference at the end of October. We agreed to meet a couple of weeks earlier in Chicago where he was scheduled to make a number of appearances By then, his face and unprecedented public declaration, "I am a homosexual, " had appeared on the cover of Time magazine in mailboxes and on newsstands around the world. Within a couple of days of our first meeting, he received the rejection of his appeal to the Secretary of the Air Force who upheld his discharge, and he and his attorneys announced that they would sue for reinstatement in civilian court.
At our conference, Elaine and Vito were huge hits with the hundreds of college-age gays attending from several states. But they were especially touched by Leonard, not the least of which because, unlike virtually all of them, he had revealed that he had not come out to himself, never touched another person in physical intimacy, until he was 30. In introducing him, I quoted the Wizard who'd advised, "You will not be judged by how much you love but by how much you are loved by others."
Afterwards, he asked me to fly to the East Coast to help with the deluge of requests for his time—more college appearances, gay group fundraisers, print, radio, and TV interviews. The movement had never had such a national spokesperson before and people were reaching out to him from all corners. After a few weeks, during which we were photographed together for People magazine, I returned to Indiana, having come to care for him not just as a hero but as a friend. We'd had a disagreement, but the bond and trust we'd felt with each other from the start overcame that, as it would more than once in the future, and around New Year's of the following year I called to wish him well, and he told me that if I ever wanted to relocate to Washington DC I'd have a place to stay.
By late Spring I was on a plane, arriving at the Southeast DC townhouse he shared with Metropolitan Community Church lobbyist Adam DeBaugh. Leonard was in Miami as one of the leaders of the campaign to try to prevent the Anita Bryant forces from repealing a gay rights ordinance there. He soon flew me down and put me to work as a volunteer coordinator. The night of our crushing defeat, heard around the world, I watched him rise from his own despair to rouse a crowd deep in shock to believe in the inevitability of justice and to raise their voices defiantly in We Shall Overcome.
That fall, Midge Costanza, Special Assistant to President Jimmy Carter, invited him to a private tour of the White House, and, as he did so many places, he took me along where we were each photographed sitting at the President's desk in the Oval Office. We cooked Thanksgiving dinner for fellow movement icons Frank Kameny and Dave Kopay, squired Eartha Kitt to surprise birthday cake at DC's most popular gay bar, and hosted endless houseguests. One of them, Doug Scott, became my beloved, classic Romantic Friend, as well as a gay leader in San Diego and the California Democratic Party.
The next Spring, Leonard moved to San Francisco, but was soon on the road again raising money across the country to defeat the Briggs Initiative. Continuing our seasonal pattern, by the following Spring we were roommates again, moving into an apartment overlooking 18th & Castro that also welcomed old and new friends from all directions. We experienced the White Night Riot together on the steps of City Hall, then, from the roof of our building, watched police take violent revenge on the innocent on the streets below. I was treasurer for his unsuccessful city supervisor campaign, celebrated his Air Force settlement with him, and helped launch the restaurant he opened in Guerneville, leaving an extra bedroom free for him whenever he came to The City.
After selling the restaurant, he took an extended vacation to Europe, eventually sending me a ticket to travel with him to Italy where we couldn't get enough gelato or Michelangelo; to Germany where we made treasured, lifelong friends behind the Berlin Wall; and to Paris where I led him to Pere Lachaise Cemetery without realizing that it would crystallize his already developing idea of a memorial to gay veterans.
He moved back to DC for a few months and then returned to San Francisco and the apartment we'd shared. One of the many ways he became involved in the AIDS crisis was to campaign for a right to die law, and, privately, I agreed that should he become ill himself and ask me I would help him end his suffering. After his own diagnosis and first hospitalization, he gave me his power of attorney over his finances and medical care and made me executor of his estate.
Eventually, the four flights of stairs in our building became too hard for him and he moved in with his dear friend Joe in Hollywood in the spring of 1988. I picked him up at the San Francisco airport on his way to speak at a gay rights rally in Sacramento, shocked at how much weight he'd lost and tired he seemed. Within a relatively short time, he had to be hospitalized again, and his doctors determined that he could only be expected to live about three weeks. I took leave from my job, and flew south to supervise his in-home care. From there I made the call to his parents in Florida that he had made me promise never to make until I believed the end was near.
There were calls to his main doctor from whom I learned the meaning of "an expected death." Calls to a local mortuary for pre-arrangements; to the airlines about what was involved in transporting a body cross country where his already talked about stone was waiting in DC; to the cemetery manager; and to the minister of the church there he'd asked to hold a service to comfort his parents.
His sister Margaret and her two grown daughters, Vicki & Pam, flew in to say goodbye, and a small group of fellow activists and friends such as Morris Kight, Ken McPherson, Tad Dunlap, and Allen Lopp were allowed in for their brief, individual farewells. His father and mother arrived, followed by his cousin Pat, a nurse, to assist in his care. They, Joe, and I were holding his hands as he took his last breath, a large photo of Martin Luther King, Jr., above his head.
Leonard's comrade-in-arms Ken went about alerting the national media. A CNN reporter and camera crew arrived and asked me why Leonard had fought so hard and long. I told him it was because, as old-fashioned as it sounded, he viscerally believed in the America of legend, in its capacity to eventually embrace equality for gay men and women, too, and the obligation he felt to help make that happen. Other media giants who had covered his civil rights actions for over a decade joined CNN in announcing Leonard's passing to the world.
That weekend was the annual gay pride parade in Los Angeles and a riderless horse was led in Leonard's memory and Joe carried an American flag banner bearing his name. When I was unable to complete plans for the funeral, Ken immediately took over despite his own grief, and, surmounting many unnecessary obstacles, produced what remains the most memorable service for a fallen gay hero, climaxing with a horse drawn caisson, an Air Force honor guard, and rainbow and American flags side-by-side bearing Leonard to his final rest.
But time, and even Time, move on. While once just seeing him on TV or a rally podium, in print and photo, gave countless people who would never meet him the courage to come out, most younger gays have never heard of him. Many seem to think that out gays were actually allowed in the military before Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Some history books get some of the facts wrong, or leave him out entirely for their authors' own subjective and unprofessional reasons. Thus this site.
Leonard Matlovich, at once my friend and my hero, was no more perfect than any mere mortal. But upon his shoulders, and those of others, every gay man and woman today stands taller.
- Michael Bedwell
They who are near me do not know that you are nearer to me than they are.
Those who speak to me do not know that my heart is full with your unspoken words.
Those who crowd in my path do not know that I am walking alone with you.
They who love me do not know that their love brings you to my heart.