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. He was also a loving son, brother, uncle, friend, & "father" of untold numbers of lives lived out & proud.
"Maybe not in my lifetime, but we are going to win in the end."
"He was the Charles Lindbergh of the Gay Movement." - Author & civil rights activist Malcolm Boyd
"The American Revolution continued in the fight of Sergeant Leonard Matlovich." - Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett (Ret)
"When Leonard Matlovich was on a magazine cover as a war hero, challenging the policy in the military, it began a national discussion on gay rights." - Unfriendly Fire author Nathaniel Frank in the HBO documentary
The Strange History of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
"He had the knack for taking your heart and making it catch for a moment.... He seemed to make people want to be braver than perhaps they were." - Neely Tucker,The Washington Post
"He will never receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom although he has earned it. If I were in charge of these things, I'd give it to him." - Aubrey Sarvis, Executive Director, SLDN, The Huffington Post "The epitaph he chose is still as fresh as today's headlines: 'When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one." - The Associated Press
The Battle Against the Military Ban Began With Leonard Matlovich
"I bore his name with pride." 19-yr. old Leonard P. Matlovich at his Air Force induction witnessed by his father Leonard C. Matlovich, a 30+ yr. USAF veteran.
The Purple Heart. A landmine explosion almost gave Leonard his wish for an end to the guilt he felt for being gay. It would take several months in the hospital to recover from his wounds and years more to live his life and love out loud.
IN 1975, Tech. Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, United States Air Force, with the guidance of Gay Movement Pioneer Frank Kameny, became the first to bring the government's decades of discrimination against gays and lesbians to national consciousness when he volunteered to tell his superiors that he was gay in order to create a test case. From the front page of The New York Times to the cover of Time magazine, from every major network news program, talk show, and podiums everywhere, he exposed the military's naked bigotry. For despite his 12 years of exemplary service, despite his extraordinary performance ratings, despite the admiration and affection of over a thousand of his Race Relations Class students,
despite his Bronze Star, his Purple Heart, and his shrapnel wounds,the Air Force demanded his discharge simply because he was gay. He fought them in court for years, securing a ruling that the Air Force had failed to justify their discrimination. NBC dramatized his challenge in the first made-for-TV movie about a living gay person, and his example inspired many others to join the fight against Pentagon prejudice and countless people to come out. Wherever he went, he told audiences: "I'm intensely proud to be gay and you should be, too. Unless we state our case, we'll continue to be robbed of our role models, our heritage, our history, and our future."
AFTER BEING ONE of the leaders in Miami's anti-Anita Bryant campaign, he moved to San Francisco where, from his apartment overlooking 18th & Castro, he repeatedly answered the community's call to help fight for LGBT rights once again. He crisscrossed America raising money to defeat Proposition 6, the Briggs Initiative, which would have banned gay teachers in California schools, and Proposition 64 that threatened to quarantine people with AIDS.
HE WAS ONE of the leaders of the protests during homophobic Pope John Paul's San Francisco visit, declaring:
"The Pope is wrong. I am not 'intrinsically evil'. We are a moral people! We will do everything we can to make this world a better place. We are letting our love and voices be heard."
AS SHOWN IN the video clip below, he tried to establish a permanent memorial to Harvey Milk in Washington DC. He helped force Northwest Airlines to end their refusal to fly people such as himself with AIDS.
He was arrested at San Francisco's Federal Building and in front of the White House itself denouncing the Reagan Administration's passive genocide by AIDS, and was still speaking out for equality in the rain falling on a Sacramento gay rights demonstration just six weeks before he died on June 22nd, 1988.
REMARKABLY, A GROWING NUMBER of other out gays, particularly veterans, have since chosen to be buried near him in Congressional Cemetery, while others have been married there. His name and example were echoed again and again in the struggle to overturn Don't Ask, Don't Tell which was essentially nothing but "old wine in new bottles." Both The Advocate and Philadelphia's Equality Forum have honored him as one of the Movement's great heroes. On the 20th anniversary of his death, a bronze plaque marking where he once lived was dedicated, and then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom declared it Leonard Matlovich Day in San Francisco. In 2009, four generations of activists honored him in Washington DC.
IN MAY OF 1987, Leonard revealed he had AIDS on Good Morning America. The video on the left is of that historic interview. Host Charlie Gibson would deliver a eulogy for Leonard at his funeral a year later.The video on the right is from the 1987 gay march on Washington. Leonard & Ken McPherson conceived of the idea of the Never Forget Foundation whose goal was to create public memorials to LGBT heroes in the same fashion as there are for countless nongays. The first subject was HARVEY MILK. The dedication ceremony was one of the marche's main events, attended by the Who's Who of the movement including Frank Kameny seen carrying a flag at the beginning of the clip, and Pat Norman, Harry Britt, and Morris Kight seen at the end. Although Harvey had been cremated and his ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean, Scott Smith, his former partner and heir, gave Leonard a few mementos that had belonged to Harvey. The plan was to eventually entomb these beneath a special monument in Congressional Cemetery where Leonard had already placed his own stone honoring all gay veterans. Sadly, he passed before enough money could be raised to complete the Milk project. NB: The narrator misidentifies the year as 1986, and Harvey's office—he was, of course, a San Francisco City Supervisor not a Congressman.
Excerpt from his final speech six weeks before his death.
"A glooming peace this morning with it brings."
ON JULY 2nd, 1988, a horse-drawn caisson carried Leonard through the streets of the nation's capital to his final rest in Congressional Cemetery. An eight-member Air Force honor guard served as pallbearers. His mentor and personal hero, movement icon Frank Kameny, told reporters, "The Air Force finally did it right and on Leonard's terms today." Army Sgt. Perry Watkins, fighting his own discharge, told the mourners, "His example lets each individual know that they must take a personal stand, with pride and courage, so that the dream we all share will continue to move victoriously forward."
In December 2010, Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley urged the United States House of Representatives to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell in Leonard's memory, afterward visiting his grave with ban victim, Navy veteran Lee Reinhart. After repeal took effect in September 2011, Lee enlisted in the Navy Reserve, sworn in by Cong. Quigley.
Iraq veteran Capt. Stephen Hill, who was infamously booed by audience members during a Republican debate, and his husband Josh talk about deciding to be legally married next to Leonard’s grave, and their participation in a lawsuit to secure gay military couples equal benefits. A longer video interview, including their account of their experiences at his gravesite, is here.
Additional video clips to come including Leonard's appearances on the CBS Evening News, the NBC Nightly News, the Larry King Show, and Nightline.
“I shared many of the prejudices that are still prevalent today but used to be more commonplace then. I owe my liberation from whatever stereotypes I’ve managed to escape to a remarkable man named Sergeant Leonard Matlovich.”
- Larry King
Remarks About Leonard by Rear Adm. Jamie Barnett, USNR [Ret] at the 2009 SLDN Dinner
“I WOULD LIKE TO START WITH A STORY, a piece of history. The story starts with a young Catholic man who loved his country so passionately that he enlisted in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, served 3 tours in Vietnam, won a Bronze Star and was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds he received in Da Nang. If you walk through the Congressional Cemetery in D.C. you will find the end of this story. Or is it the end? The tombstone reads: 'WHEN I WAS IN THE MILITARY THEY GAVE ME A MEDAL FOR KILLING TWO MEN AND A DISCHARGE FOR LOVING ONE'.”
Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich was probably the most famous gay man in the country in the 1970s. His face was on the cover of Time magazine, and NBC made a movie of his story. He declared his orientation in 1975, long before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and despite his exemplary service, combat tours, and medals, he was discharged six months later with a general discharge. But the bravery which had served him so well in Vietnam served him in a fight with the Air Force for his civil rights, a fight which resulted in dignity, an honorable discharge and a ray of hope for gay service members. So the tombstone was not the end of the story. Sergeant Matlovich’s fight still continues.
So with that story from history, let me ask you a historical question: when did the American Revolution end? It hasn't ended. It is still going on. The American Revolution continued with the Emancipation Proclamation and with the 13th Amendment ending slavery. It continued with Susan B. Anthony and the fight for the right for women to vote. The American Revolution continued with Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. . . . And the American Revolution continued in the fight of Sergeant Leonard Matlovich. And it continued in the fight of Sergeant Darren Manzella, and CDR Zoe Dunning, and in the fight of so many of you here, including the fight of Major Margaret Witt.
And that is why I am so pleased to give this keynote address. I want to serve my country in this continuing American Revolution. I am proud to stand before you because I am proud to stand with you, the new patriots of the American Revolution, a revolution that exists wherever freedom and dignity are expanded with equanimity and justice. . . .”
REAR ADMIRAL JAMIE BARNETT, USNR (Retired)
Aubrey Sarvis, then-Executive Director, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, The Huffington Post, 2008:
“BY LAW, MEN AND WOMEN are still being discharged today if they declare that they are gay—even in a private e-mail to a friend that someone happens to find and passes to a superior. It is nothing short of astonishing, as well as appalling, that on the twentieth anniversary of Leonard's death the fight for basic rights most Americans take for granted is still going on. It is the reason why the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network exists. It is the reason why we defend service members affected by the law now known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and why we work for its repeal. That's our way of honoring a very brave and principled man. He will never receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom although he has earned it. If I were in charge of these things, I'd give it to him, not to General Peter Pace who declared Leonard Matlovich's love ‘immoral’."
Purchase this song sung by the out & outstanding John Barrowman, his CDs, new autobiography, & DVDs of his starring role in the BBC sensation "Torchwood" by clicking on his photo.
"Tell my father that his son didn't run or surrender. That I bore his name with pride as I tried to remember you are judged by what you do while passing through. As I rest 'neath fields of green let him lean on your shoulder. Tell him how I spent my youth so the truth could grow older. Tell my father when you can I was a man. Tell him we will meet again where the angels learn to fly. Tell him we will meet as men for with honor did I die. Tell him how I wore the Blue proud and true through the fire. Tell my father so he'll know I love him so. Tell him how I wore the blue proud and true like he taught me. Tell my father not to cry then say goodbye." - Murphy/Wildhorn