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Do you know who Leonard P. Matlovich is? Here is a hint: he was probably the most well-known openly gay man in the 70s (next to Harvey Milk of course). Today is his birthday!
Leonard Matlovich was a symbols in the history of the LGBT community and was the first gay service member in the military to purposely out himself – specifically to fight their ban on gays. Sgt. Matlovich was discharged when he came out as gay despite serving three tours of duty in Vietnam and earning a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, and an Air Force Commendation Medal.
He fought to stay in the United States Air Force after coming out. His stance on gay rights and his fight to stay in the USAF became a famous case in which the gay community rallied behind. His case resulted in flurry of media including interviews in magazines, newspapers, radio, a television movie and he even landed the Sep 8, 1975 cover of Time magazine!
“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.” – Journalist Randy Shilts. This solidified him as a symbol for thousands of LGBTQ+ service members and the LGBTQ+ community in general.
Sadly at the age of 44, Leonard Matlovich passed away due to complications from HIV/AIDS. His tombstone is meant to be a memorial to all LGBTQ+ veterans and it does not bear his name. Instead, carved in stone it reads “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.” – Leonard Matlovich