LEONARD MATLOVICH, a Vietnam War veteran, race relations instructor, and recipient of the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, died (b: 1943). Matlovich was the first Gay service member to fight the ban on Gays in the military, and perhaps the best-known Gay man in America in the 1970s next to Harvey Milk. His fight to stay in the U.S. Air Force after coming out 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 service members and Gays generally. In October 2006, Matlovich was honored by LGBT History Month as a leader in the history of the LGBT.
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.” As a final irony, Matlovich’s tombstone at Congressional Cemetery is on the same row as that of FBI Director and closet-case J. Edgar Hoover.