Tag Archives: Leonard Matlovich

Memorial Day: Remembering Sergeant Leonard Matlovich America's First Openly Gay Soldier

Memorial Day: Remembering Sergeant Leonard Matlovich America’s First Openly Gay Soldier [Video + Text]

In 1973 Technical Sargent Leonard 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 called Kameny in Washington DC 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 gay men. 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” because for Matlovich, his test of the military’s ban on homosexuals would be equivalent to that case.

At that time, the Air Force had a unique exception clause that technically could allow gays to continue to serve under undefined circumstances. (Remember this was LONG before DADT a time where if someone whispered you were gay you’d be discharged without any defense) An Air Force attorney asked  Maltovich if he would sign a document pledging to “never practice homosexuality again” in exchange for being allowed to stay in the Air Force. Matlovich refused.  Despite the fact that Maltovich had an unblemished military record, tours of duty in Vietnam, was a recipient of the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, the military ruled Leonard Matlovich unfit to serve and he was recommended for a General, or Less than Honorable, discharge. The base commander recommended that it be upgraded to Honorable and the Secretary of the Air Force agreed, confirming Matlovich’s discharge in October 1975.

Maltovich sued for reinstatement, but the legal process was a long one, with the case moving back and forth between United States District and Circuit Courts. When, by September 1980, the Air Force had failed to provide US District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell an explanation of why Matlovich did not meet their criteria for exception [which by then had been eliminated but still could have applied to him], Gesell ordered him reinstated into the Air Force and promoted. The Air Force offered Matlovich a financial settlement instead, and convinced they would find some other reason to discharge him if he reentered the service, or the conservative US Supreme Court would rule against him should the Air Force appeal, Matlovich accepted. The figure, based on back pay, future pay, and pension was $160,000.

His case resulted in articles in newspapers and magazines throughout the country, numerous television interviews, and a television movie on NBC. He was repeatedly called upon by gay groups to help them with fund raising and advocating against anti-gay discrimination, helping 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 and also later the fight for adequate HIV-AIDS education and treatment.

On June 22, 1988, less than 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.

Memorial Day – May 29, 2017: Remembering Our Fallen LGBT Military and Community Heroes

On this day, across America we remember our countries fallen military service people.

Since the Revolutionary War in America LGBT servicemen and women served our country bravely and in silence not only risking the loss of their lives but also careers, friends and family if their sexuality were found out.

Leonard Matlovich,  Harvey Milk,, Christine JorgensenGore Vidal, Jim Foster,  and Stephen Donaldson are just a few among the countless others served our country and should be recognized and remembered.

So as a community let us give a special thanks and remembrance our gay and lesbians brothers and sisters who fought side by side in silence and  fought for this country while having to hide who they truly were.

May we always remember their courage, their bravery and their selflessness for fighting for the freedom of  a country that would not acknowledge them or grant them their rights.

They are true LGBT American Heroes and on this day we should remember and thank them all.

 

First National LGBT Veterans Memorial To Be Built At The Congressional Cemetery In Washington D.C.

This week it was announced that a National LGBT Veterans Memorial is being built at the historical Congressional Cemetery to honor fallen LGBT servicemen.

The Congressional Cemetery was established in 1807 and was America’s first de-facto national cemetery long before Arlington National Cemetary was created. The Congressional Cemetery is not owned by the government but by nearby Christ Church and takes its name from the fact that so many historical figures, including some 80 members of the Senate and House are buried there leading Congress to periodically contribute to the upkeep of “The Congressional Burying Ground”.

The memorial, says organizer Nancy Russell, is meant to be a visible and lasting testament to the contributions that transgender, bisexual, lesbian, and gay service members have made to the security of the U.S.

The board of directors of the National LGBT Veterans Memorial have already bought the plots and are seeking design submissions for the monument from artists across the country.

Nancy Russell, a retired Army LTC and chair of the NLGBTVM board of directors, said, “The time has come for those of us who were forced to serve in silence to honor our fellow veterans with a dignified and impressive memorial in our national capitol. The National LGBT Veterans Memorial will provide a fitting resting place where our veterans may, as Leonard Matlovich urged us to do, ‘leave a lasting record of our accomplishments.'”

Matlovich who was discharged from the Air Force in the early 1970s for being a gay man is already buried at the Congressional Cemetary and his tombstone is a significant attraction for visitors to the Cemetery for its poignant inscription “They gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.

The memorial to LGBT military is hoping to unveil the Memorial on Memorial Day 2014